I was destined to play Sir Nicholas Winton’s mother in One Life, says Helena Bonham Carter

The actress also described Sir Nicholas ‘as a hero’ for his efforts to save 669 Jewish children from the Nazis


Helena Bonham Carter (Photo: Getty Images)

Helena Bonham Carter felt she was destined to play her role in new film One Life because of her Jewish heritage.

The actress also described British stockbroker Sir Nicholas Winton “as a hero” for his efforts to save 669 Jewish children from the Nazis before the outbreak of World War II.

Bonham Carter played Sir Nicholas’ mother, Babette, in the biopic which was released on New Year's Day. Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Sir Nicholas.

She said the role of Babette “resonated on a different level”, adding: “I come from a Jewish background. My great grandmother was Austrian.

“Most people in my family will recognise my great granny who just popped up when I put on the accent and the clothes. So in a way, she just came to life.”

The star went on to say: “There was a lot of overlap with my actual history. Echoes. So I felt when asked to do it that it was in the stars. It’s in my DNA to play the part. So I was compelled to do it.”

The star, renowned for her award-winning performances in Howards End, The King’s Speech and Sweeney Todd, said she was approached about the role two years ago by director James Hawes.

She added: “I was approached about two years ago and I thought it was one of these sort of things that would never happen.

"Then [Anthony] Hopkins said he was going to be in it. Then Johnny [Flynn]. It just sort of coalesced.”

Bonham Carter said the most important thing was to “make sense of the hero. What made this man, this exceptional man, so modest, do the most extraordinary things.”

The Hollywood actress also mentioned her grandparents. Her maternal grandfather was a Spanish diplomat who helped Jews escape the Holocaust and her English paternal grandmother was a liberal politician who fought antisemitism.

She told Jewish News: “My grandparents on both sides did a lot for getting visas for a lot of Jewish people. My grandfather in Spain was a Czech diplomat.

“He got about 3,000 Jewish people out on June 17th 1940 with transit visas and defied his government. And my grandmother sponsored a family from Prague, bizarrely.”

Bonham Carter also reflected on filming One Life during the height of the Russia-Ukraine war, telling Radio Times: “When we filmed it, this time last year, it was in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis.

"So obviously, there were refugee children. That was incredibly relevant when we're forming and now it's smack in the middle of this horrendous situation.”

As a young man visiting Prague in the 1930s, Sir Nicholas encountered thousands of Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi-occupied Germany, and he became deeply concerned about the future of the refugee children given the rising threat of a Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Sir Nicholas spearheaded a team, including his own mother, that organised the evacuation of Czech children, arranging both railway transport, visas and foster families.

Ultimately, he saved 669 children, earning him the nickname ‘the British Schindler’, in a nod to Oskar Schindler, who famously saved 1200 Jewish people during the Second World War.

The story of Sir Nicholas, who died in 2015 at the age of 106, was brought to the wider public's attention by Dame Esther Rantzen in 1988 during a screening of the programme That's Life.

A BBC Films and See-Saw Films production, One Life is currently playing in cinemas in the UK.

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