By Yasmine Jackson
By Yasmine Jackson
Based on the international bestseller by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief tells the story of nine year old Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse), a book-loving girl who is given up by her communist mother to foster parents in Nazi Germany.
Nélisse brings an element of sweetness yet toughness to her role and notably, of French-Canadian descent, the young star’s Germanic accent is nothing short of impressive.
Academy Award nominee Emily Watson delivers the striking, cold, and bitter performance as Rosa, Liesel’s foster mother as we see her, in mostly every scene, scolding her husband, Hans (Geoffrey Rush), a gentle, kind-hearted fellow who takes in Max (Ben Schnetzer), a Jewish refugee who hides in their basement. The pair encourage Liesel to develop her linguistic skills and predictably, we see her flourish.
And of course, what would a coming of age tale be without young love? Thus, typically, we see a captivating friendship blossom when Liesel meets boy-next-door (literally) Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch), a spirited, white-blonde haired boy. Although fans of the book will fall disappointed at the loss of finer detail of Liesel and Rudy’s friendship, there still proves to be a cutesy-innocent-boy-meets-girl-in-times-of-hardship quality about it.
There is the occasional interruption by the dark narration of Death himself (voiced by Roger Allam, Game of Thrones) which, in the opening scenes of the film, assures us with the haunting first words “one small fact – you are going to die” and then concludes with a final uplifting speech which meant we were probably expected to leave the cinema feeling inspired.
Throughout the film, the narration made the easy mistake of replacing the horrors of Nazi Germany with a wistful ‘Disney wonderland’ approach as Death hovered above the clouds and watched below.
It was recently stated by Zusak that the biggest hurdle for the film-makers was what to do with Death, and for many readers, it may come as a let-down that he didn’t have as much involvement and importance than they hoped.
Director Brian Percival, best known for directing episodes of Downton Abbey, has captured engaging and admirable performances from the cast yet failed to take a tougher approach by sugar-coating 1930s Germany with picturesque imagery of snowy landscapes and children playing in the streets.
There is a strong story here about the power of literature and fragility of life but some may argue that the film is merely a vapid depiction of Nazi Germany. The Book Thief offers nothing less than a powerful coming-of-age story.