A Remarkable Story Made Mechanical, Nicky’s Family’s Presentation Undermines the Film’s Heroic Subject Matter


Nicholas Winton, a comfortable young banker in 1930s England, could have, like most of his countrymen before World War II, carried on with his life. Instead, made aware of Hitler’s movements, he took it upon himself to whisk as many Jewish children as possible out of Czechoslovakia, to be fostered by English families. It was a cruel blessing, ripping young children away from loving families to protect them. Winton managed to save nearly 700, many around kindergarten age and younger. He was ambitious and creative, even faking passports to leapfrog over bureaucratic delays. Winton, now more than 100 years old, kept quiet about his deed, so this story didn’t get out until the 1980s, when his wife found his scrapbook, a meticulous documentation of this “kindertransport.” Unfortunately, Nicky’s Family, writer-director Matej Minac’s documentary on Winton’s story, is as mechanical as a classroom lesson. It is eerie to see numbers hanging from the children’s necks as they are hustled onto trains; their parents would be given other numbers entirely. And it is moving to hear the saved children, now old folks, recount their memories and describe their lives. It’s a shame the way the film’s narrative is undermined by long stretches of soulless re-enactments, by a well-meaning but energy-sapping final tribute, and by haphazard storytelling. Yet it recounts, of course, a far greater shame. Winton helped humanity redeem itself, and that alone redeems this film.