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Suite Française

3/10

Stars: Michelle Williams, Matthias Schoenaerts, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Riley, Ruth Wilson, Margot Robbie, Lambert Wilson, Eileen Atkins, Heino Ferch, Tom Schilling, Harriet Walter, Claire Holman, Alexandra Maria Lara

Director: Saul Dibb

Kristin Scott Thomas has been quoted in the media rather often recently for complaining that good film roles for actresses of her age are fewer and fewer between, so that she now has to seek stage work as well.

Here, in this expensive-looking but cumulatively shallow show, her trademark lack of warmth (“She could scare the plague away”) is usefully cast as a tough-as-nails upper-crust widow whose daughter-in-law Michelle Williams, waiting to hear the fate of her prisoner-of-war husband, lives in (reasonable) luxury with her in a French village during WW2.

Enter the beastly Germans, first seen (in the film’s most impactful scenes) bombing rural roads clogged with refugees fleeing from Nazi-occupied Paris.
Director Saul Dibb stages these sequences with real power, followed by a stark scene of an aircraft raining down a snowstorm of propaganda leaflets on villagers and German occupiers alike.

After that, however, Dibb, also co-writer with Matt Charman, settles for a slew of seen-it-all-before genre clichés topped with the over-sweetened, utterly obvious ‘forbidden’ romance between Williams and ‘sensitive’ piano-playing German officer Matthias Schoenaerts who is billeted with Scott Thomas…

Add a limping Communist farmer, played rather better than the screenplay allows by Sam Riley, who takes on the Nazis, an aristocrat who falls foul of the invaders and some attractively photographed locations, and you have a glossy, perfectly predictable picture that comes across as the sort of offering whose natural home would be as a weekend serial on BBC television.

And, ironically, your BBC licence fee has contributed towards the production.

The players do what they have to do which, given the screenplay and direction, isn’t enough to make the show memorable.

The backstory is rather more interesting than the screen version. The manuscript written by Holocaust victim Irene Nemirovsky (who died in Auschwitz in 1942) became an international bestselling book some 60 years later. I admit I haven’t read it but I cannot imagine this trite celluloid reworking really does it justice.

Alan Frank

Uk/France/Canada 2014. UK Distributor: EntertainmentOne. Colour.
107 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 13 Mar 2015