SXSW: A Small Light – Disney’s WWII Drama shines Brilliantly

Having had the opportunity to attend a few SXSW screenings with my granddaughter was a real treat, but when we ventured into the screening of A Small Light, it wasn’t until an abrupt non-end to the story that I realized we were seeing a TV series preview. A Small Light is a somber, engaging retelling of the Frank family’s plight in the tiny hideaway where Anne wrote her well-known, heart-wrenching diary. Granted, the story is wholly mesmerizing, but the cliffhanger surprised us and left us hungry for more, which is a good thing.

It seems unlikely that anyone middle school age or older does not know the Diary of Anne Frank. A Small Light stars Bel Powley as Miep Gies, an assistant to Otto Frank (Liev Schreiber), who helped the Frank family and others hide during Hitler’s reign. While Anne is in the series, it holds Miep at its center. Nearly single-handly, she assists the Franks in many things – from sneaking past patrols to food acquisition and running the business. Frank, a merchant, worked in the manufacturing and distributing the pectin-based gelling preparations for jam-making, which is where Miep worked. Frank took her into his confidence, and Miep, although frightened, knew she had to help the family.

The first episodes were brilliantly crafted, and the production design, costuming, and Susanna Fogel’s direction were exceptional. Still, the emphasis on character sets this apart from any standard World War II drama. Powley’s impressive, wide-eyed expressiveness makes the series all the more enthralling. Her glamour and grace shine brightly even though her character is nearly invisible to the powers threatening the Frank family and other Jews. Schreiber, too, shows a subtle exceptionality in his depiction of Otto – serious and still light even in the face of such apparent turmoil. He works to maintain his business and safeguard his family.

National Geographic’s limited series is worth the look, and it dropped on Hulu, ESPN+, and Disney+ on May 2nd and is indeed binge-worthy. A Small Light reflects on those who worked tirelessly to make a difference when the lights went out for so many. Notably, Disney’s take on the Holocaust shines brightly and bravely. We are lucky to be able to see it through the eyes and actions of this remarkable woman. She is not the story, but in this telling, she is its heart. I am placing five stars up top for this remarkable series.

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