All too often when books are made into movies the end result is disappointing, so thankfully, I hadn’t actually read The Book Thief before catching the film.
Geoffrey Rush is up there with Helen Mirren, Judy Dench and Colin Firth as an actor whose movies I find it hard not to watch, such is his command of the craft. But in The Book Thief, as great as Geoffrey is, it’s the young actors Sophie Nelisse and Nico Liersch, as Liesel and Rudy respectively, who steal the show.
Set in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich, The Book Thief follows the tale of Liesel, a young girl whose mother was a communist and who is adopted by the laidback and welcoming Hans (Rush) and the hard-faced Rosa (Emily Watson). The transition to her new family and life is difficult for Liesel, who is ridiculed at home by Rosa and at school by the other children for not being able to read. With the burning of many works of literature, books are hard to come by, but she and Hans make do and his support helps her to quickly catch up to her classmates.
Equally confronting is the danger Hans puts his family in when he hides a young Jewish man called Max, whose father had saved Hans’ life many years before. Liesel is sympathetic to Max’s plight and despite their age difference; the two soon form a strong bond.
The movie is thought provoking, as it doesn’t shy away from the hardships enforced onto the German people by Hitler’s quest for world domination and the ease by which such young children conform to the Nazi ways. One such confronting scene is where the class of angelic children sing the most beautiful hymn, only for the English words to belie the real horror of what they are singing about. Another is when Hans is the only one in town who stands up for a Jewish neighbour, only to realise that he has placed his family in more danger.
Grab your hankies and enjoy this truly magnificent movie.