Film Review: Nicky's Family

A great true story and a great man come together in this real heart-warmer of a documentary.

Unknown to many, there was indeed another “Schindler’s List.” This one occurred in Prague, and the name of the man in question was Nicholas Winton, who, as young British stockbroker, took it upon himself to rescue some 669 children of Czech and Slovak descent from concentration-camp fates by arranging their transport to Britain.

Matej Minac’s heartfelt and very moving documentary Nicky’s Family profiles the man and the fraught time in which he pulled off this life-saving coup, fully capturing the excitement and daring of his deed. (Even the re-enactments Minac uses are, for once, vivid and helpful and not grating anachronisms.) Prague is presented as it originally was before the Nazis, like Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Budapest a freethinking cosmopolitan capital of sophistication and culture. The prescience of Winton, who sensed the horror to come in 1938, is impressive, and even more so is the deft and clear-eyed facility with which he carried out his mission, doing everything it took, including forging documents to, as he now says, “bamboozle the Germans.”

Yes, amazingly, Winton is still alive at age 104, rightfully knighted and interviewed extensively here. Even more amazing is the jaw-dropping modesty which largely kept his story from the public. It was only when his wife discovered a scrapbook on their estate, filled with details of his actions, that she herself came to know this secret he had kept for 50 years. He’s a truly terrific old guy, inspirationally active today, with his gardening, embroidery, even taking to the air, and unstoppable good works. His innate deep humanity and humor are undiminished, as he recounts the speeding tickets he gets for driving, telling police he had to make a rush for the loo.

Also wonderfully interviewed are the overwhelmingly grateful children he saved, now in advanced age themselves. In an exhaustive mission to find their whereabouts and round them up, 250 responses were received. One hundred of them come together at a celebratory surprise reunion at which, for the first time, Winton meets them again, and I defy anyone to watch this segment dry-eyed. Many of these survivors have gone on to eminent lives as politicians, doctors and teachers and, with their own children and children’s children, many dedicated to following in their benefactor’s humanistic efforts, it is now estimated that Winton’s extended “family”—who all owe their very existence to him—numbers 5,700.