5 remarkable facts about One Life war hero Nicholas Winton

Anthony Hopkins delivers an understated yet resonant performance in this week's new release One Life. He portrays Nicholas Winton, the World War II humanitarian who came to prominence for rescuing endangered Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939.

One Life splits Winton's story across two time frames with Johnny Flynn embodying the character's early wartime years and Hopkins portraying Winton as an older man. The latter plays Winton as a dignified yet retiring individual whose achievements are finally granted the spotlight on Esther Rantzen's show That's Life in 1989.

It would take a hard heart not to be moved by such a powerful story (check out the Unlimited screening reactions here). The excellent supporting cast includes Helena Bonham Carter as Winton's mother, Lena Olin, Romola Garai and Jonathan Pryce, and the film does justice to an astonishing act of wartime bravery.

To prep you for the movie here are some remarkable facts about Winton himself and what he achieved.


1. Winton saved more than 600 children

The exact number of children saved by Winton is subject to debate, but it frequently ranges up to 669. The younger Winton travelled to Czechoslovakia in his capacity as a businessman and was appalled by the treatment of Jewish families following Adolf Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland.

With the collaboration of a small group of brave individuals, Winton was able to evacuate hundreds of children out of the country to Britain where they were taken up with foster families. This was known as the 'kindertransport'. In the process, Winton and his colleagues also helped secure the sanctity and security of future generations.


2. Winton's achievements went unseen for decades

Hopkins portrays Winton as a quiet, avowedly anti-heroic individual who actively avoids media glory and publicity. It is ultimately his curiosity about what happened to the children he saved that directs him towards an appearance on That's Life, the primetime show more famous for glib and flippant puff pieces.

This is broadly accurate as to what happened in real life. After the war ended in 1945, Winton quietly went about his life and no one other than those involved in the 'kindertransport' and the children themselves had any idea of what he'd achieved.

It was only 50 years later, in 1988, that Winton made his moving appearance on That's Life and his story became evident to the UK public.


3. He was dubbed the 'British Schindler' and later knighted by Queen Elizabeth II

At the height of the Holocaust, Austrian businessman and war profiteer Oskar Schindler was so moved by the plight of Jewish people that he vowed to save as many as possible from the concentration camps. He ultimately helped save 1,100 individuals, a story later dramatised in Steven Spielberg's Schinder's List, so it was perhaps inevitable that Winton's own rescue mission would see him compared to Schindler.

However, as One Life makes clear, heroism isn't measured empirically and humanity isn't tied into a numbers game. What matters and what ultimately resonates is Winton's success in securing not just the safety of the 'kindertransport' children but their own children and grandchildren.

Queen Elizabeth II recognised Winton's humanitarian achievements by granting him a knighthood in 2003.


4. Winton had a special train designed in his honour

In September 2009, a special 'Winton Train' utilising a 1930s locomotive engine and carriages set off from the Prague Main railway station for London via the original 'kindertransport' route.

On board were several surviving 'Winton children' and their descendants, who were welcomed by Winton in London.


5. Winton was awarded the Czech Republic's highest honour

On May 19th, 2014, Winton's 105th birthday, it was announced he was to receive the Czech Republic's highest honour, for giving Czech children "the greatest possible gift: the chance to live and to be free".

On October 28th, 2014, Winton was brought to Prague by the Czech Defence Ministry and was awarded the Order of the White Lion (Class I) by Czech President Miloš Zeman. Winton was recognised alongside former UK Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill (the latter's grandson Nicholas Soames accepted Churchill's award in his name).


If those facts have inspired you, then take yourself down to Cineworld and marvel at a truly extraordinary account of wartime honour. Click the link below to book your tickets for One Life.