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Who was Sir Nicholas Winton, the subject of 'One Life' starring Anthony Hopkins?

Anthony Hopkins (left) playing Sir Nicholas Winton (right) in 'One Life'
Anthony Hopkins (left) playing Sir Nicholas Winton (right) in 'One Life' Copyright See-Saw Films - Getty
Copyright See-Saw Films - Getty
By David Mouriquand
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An upcoming film, 'One Life', will tell the life of Sir Nicholas Winton. Who was the Holocaust hero?

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Sir Nicholas Winton was a war hero who saved 669 children from the Nazis. And now, the man dubbed the ‘British Schindler’ will be played by the two-time Oscar winner and Welsh acting legend Anthony Hopkins.

Based on the book 'If it’s not impossible… The life of Sir Nicholas Winton' by Barbara Winton, James Hawes’ film One Life, which will receive its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) as a special presentation in September.

The film tells the true story of Sir Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Winton, a young London banker who, on the eve of World War II, saved 669 children from the Nazis – more than the number of children who survived the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia.

Anthony Hopkins and Johnny Flynn both play Nicholas Winton at different stages of his life, while Helena Bonham-Carter plays Winton’s mother, Babi. The cast also includes Jonathan Pryce, Lena Olin, Romola Garai and Alex Sharp.

See-Saw Films
Johnny Flynn as a young Nicholas Winton in 'One Life'See-Saw Films

Who was Sir Nicholas Winton?

Sir Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Winton - born Nicholas Wertheimer on 19 May 1909 to Jewish parents - was a young London stockbroker who heard of the efforts to rescue German and Austrian Jewish children on the so-called Kindertransport, an effort that eventually brought about 10,000 unaccompanied children to safety in Great Britain. He decided to organize a similar rescue operation for the children of Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of World War II.

The first transport of children organized by Winton left Prague by plane for London on 14 March 1939. He raised money to fund the transports and also found British foster families willing to care for the refugee children. Winton organized seven further transports that departed by rail out of Prague and across Germany to the Atlantic Coast, then by ship across the English Channel to Britain.

The last trainload of children left Prague on 2 August 1939.

Rescue activities ceased when Germany invaded Poland and Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939.

After the war, Nicholas Winton's rescue efforts remained virtually unknown. He was haunted by the thought of all those he was not able to help and, as a result, never talked about his efforts. It was not until 1988, when his wife Grete found a scrapbook in their attic with all the children's names, that Winton's rescue efforts became known.

The general public found out that year when Winton’s story featured on the live BBC television show, That’s Life!. During the show, presenter Esther Rantzen asked the studio audience if "anyone here tonight owes their life to Nicholas Winton?"

He was surprised when surviving children – now adults – were seated all around him and began to stand up.

The emotional clip of this moment has been immortalised on YouTube.

Winton received a letter of thanks from the former President of Israel Ezer Weizman for his heroism and was made an honorary citizen of Prague in the independent Czech Republic. In 2003, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for Services to Humanity for this work.

Sir Nicholas Winton died on 1 July 2015 at the age of 106.

Then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to Sir Nicholas by saying that "the world has lost a great man. We must never forget Sir Nicholas Winton's humanity in saving so many children from the Holocaust."

Former prime minister Gordon Brown described Sir Nicholas as "a real hero of our times".

"That courage led him to risk his life to save the lives of some of the most vulnerable people,” he said. “His inspiration will live on."

One Life will screen at TIFF, which takes place from 7 to 17 September.

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