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Book Thief, The

9/10

Stars: Sophie NÚlisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Nico Hiersch, Ben Schnetzer, Rainer Bock, Barbara Auer, Kirsten Block, Oliver Stokowski, Roger Allam (voice)

Director: Brian Percival

A poignant portrait of German life in the war years, seen through the eyes of Liesl (NÚlisse), a young girl who is about 10 when the story begins in February 1938. She and her brother are to be given up for adoption, but the boy dies en route, and it is Liesl alone who arrives at the cottage home of middle-aged Hans (Rush) and his wife Rosa (Watson) in a small town - somewhat too 'mittel-European' for comfort though one grows used to it.

Hans teaches Liesl to read and write, she beats up the school bully, and is befriended by blond-haired Peter (Hiersch) who never does get the kiss he desires.

The years roll by until, in 1941, drama and danger loom large with the arrival of Max (Schnetzer), a Jewish refugee who is hidden in the basement by Hans and Rosa. Liesl, who has been 'borrowing' books from the burgomeister's wife's library, reads to him, especially when he falls ill.

In an unusual conceit, the film is narrated by Death, the unease of which is smoothed away by Allam's beautiful delivery of Death's occasional interpolations, as he claims various victims of the war.

Extremely fine acting by Rush, Watson and the very pretty NÚlisse (previously seen in Monsieur Lazhar) brings the story to life and ensures that there will be few dry eyes at the finish of this exquisitely-fashioned film.

David Quinlan

USA/UK/Germany/Hungary 2013. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Technicolor/Prints by deluxe.
131 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 22 Feb 2014