The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas
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