Chilling in its interpretation of grim realities, superb in its production and far too convincing for comfort, 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' makes a seemingly easy transformation from page to screen under the directorial hand of Mark Herman.
John Boyne's best-selling book of the same name is acclaimed the world over. Tackling a subject which is neither pleasant nor dignified, he brings a certain sense of simplicity to a harrowing world issue, telling the human story behind an atrocity by focusing on two boys on either side of a bitter divide during World War Two.
Bruno (Butterfield) is the eight-year-old son of a Nazi commandant. Shmuel (Scanlon) is a Jewish boy of the same age, who sits behind the barbed, electrified fences of a concentration camp. They should never know of each other's existence, yet somehow, in a world where so many other rules exist, they do.
Bruno's father (Thewlis) is a man who never flinches in his dedication to the Nazi cause, aided in his duties by his right-hand man Lt Kotler (Friend). The young boy's mother (Farmiga), however, finds her heart slowly breaking as she comes to live in the midst of violence and discovers a life regimented by a controlling outside force. She further recoils when she sees the impact of the movement on her daughter Gretel (Beattie), who seemingly changes from playful young girl to militant teenager overnight.
What is refreshing about 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' is that it focuses on the implications of actions, instead of the politics. For the most part, it looks at the issue through eyes of innocence, when children ask naïve questions that should shock their elders and where they strip back the labels to find themselves as two children with the same hopes and dreams, despite their very different predicaments.
The acting here is superb, from the young children (Butterfield and Scanlon) that are the focus of the story to the seasoned professionals (Thewlis, Farmiga and Friend), who offer them a guiding light. Once you get past the small stumbling block that is the choice of accents, you'll just become totally, and helplessly, engrossed in the story.
'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' will chill you to the bone. You will find yourself stuck to your seat watching the end credits until their close, unable to move yourself. It will leave you speechless, broken-hearted and shocked - and its final scenes will stick in your memory much longer than you would want, for the sake of comfort and a restful mind.
A fine testament to all involved.