The Boy In The Striped Py­ja­mas

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - SEVEN DAYS -

(2008) 12

Fri­day, 9pm, BBC2

Based on a best­selling book by Dublin au­thor John Boyne, this drama – set in Ger­many dur­ing the Sec­ond World War – di­vided adult au­di­ences, many of whom dis­missed it as sim­plis­tic and con­trived. Per­haps it is, if viewed with grown-up eyes. But seen through the eyes of a child, as in­tended, it is a film that aims to tell the story of the Holo­caust in a man­ner that an in­no­cent could grasp.

Eight-year-old Bruno (Asa But­ter­field, above) moves with his fam­ily from Ber­lin to the coun­try­side. His fa­ther (David Thewlis) is a high-rank­ing Nazi of­fi­cer, and it is soon clear (to the au­di­ence) that he has been put in charge of a con­cen­tra­tion camp. Bruno’s mother, Elsa (Vera Farmiga, be­low), turns a blind eye, but only un­til the re­al­ity of the gas cham­bers sinks in.

As adults with hind­sight, we know what we are see­ing from the visual clues around us. But for Bruno the in­no­cent – more in­ter­ested in ad­ven­ture sto­ries than his tu­tor’s skewed his­tory lessons – his view of events is some­what dif­fer­ent.

Sneak­ing off to play in the woods, Bruno reaches a barbed wire fence be­hind which he sees a young boy called Sh­muel (Jack Scan­lon), who’s wear­ing ‘striped py­ja­mas’.

Bruno leaps in with all the ex­cite­ment of a lonely boy who has at last found a friend. We, on the other hand, with in­creas­ing dread and un­ease, know that his friend­ship can­not thrive. The film’s 12 cer­tifi­cate means that par­ents will be cau­tious. Rightly so. It is not a film for very young chil­dren and uti­mately, it does not pull any punches in its por­trayal of what went on in the camps. But older chil­dren should not be ex­cluded from this les­son from his­tory, and they will prob­a­bly view it from a far less jaded per­spec­tive than the ranks of film crit­ics.

The story be­hind the film

Di­rec­tor Mark Her­man made John Boyne’s novel more cin­e­matic in many ways, in­clud­ing the re-cre­ation of a Nazi pro­pa­ganda film. The char­ac­ter of Bruno’s mother was also de­vel­oped, draw­ing on the sto­ries of real-life Ger­man women who were shielded from (or com­plicit in) the ter­ri­ble truth. Si­mone An­drews

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