📺 Where to watch A Little Light: Disney+ from May 2nd
⭐️ Our evaluation: 4/5
🍿 Watch it if you liked it: Jojo Rabbit, The Man in the High Castle, Hunters
🎭 Who’s in it?: Liev Schreiber, Joe Cole, Noah Taylor, Bel Powley
⏰ How long is it? 8 episodes of 50 minutes each
📖 What is it about? It follows the remarkable story of Miep Gies, a Dutch woman who risked her life to protect Anne Frank’s family from the Nazis for more than two years during World War II.
Sometimes all it takes is a little light in the dark to overcome anything. Surrounded by an oppressive regime but forced by compassion to protect the helpless from tyranny: this is the Disney+ story (under the banner of National Geographic) of Miep Gies (Bel Powley), who hid Anne Frank (Billie Boullet), her family and so many others from persecution during World War II.
With Emmy-nominated runners Tony Phelan and Joan Rater (Grey’s Anatomy) at the helm of this wartime-set film, audiences are in good hands as they are catapulted into Nazi-occupied Amsterdam on July 6, 1942.
There is a curfew in place that prohibits Jews from going out after dark while an incremental persecution slowly begins to segregate those of a certain faith, forcing them to carry identification papers and be judged according to corrupt doctrine.
Bel Powley possesses his audience in the opening minutes of A Small Light with wide-eyed optimism and effervescent shrewdness, which instantly strips this wartime drama of its oppressive side. Faced with pretending to pass a German checkpoint without papers, he coaches Margot Frank (Ashley Brooke) through subterfuge as they steer their bikes towards potential danger.
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It’s a wise exercise in scene-setting, telling the audience everything they need to know about their resourceful heroine, without straying too far from grounded reality. This tense opening soon flashes back to 1934, where a series of interconnected introductions reveal Miep at more lighthearted moments, quickly provide backstory and crucial character context, before her life-changing encounter with Otto Frank (Liev Schreiber) and Jan (Joe Cole ).
That these showrunners and their roomful of writers were able to include those important narrative elements, infuse every moment with momentum, yet still imbue this drama with an inherent optimism is admirable. The opening episode deftly establishes relationships, underscores the threat of Nazi invasion, and does it all without feeling stereotypical.
Once those pieces are in place and A Small Light leans back to its espionage roots, this settles into the confines of a family melodrama, with the prospect of arrest, interrogation and incarceration in labor camps a real possibility.
However, what consistently counteracts the knowledge of mass genocide that colors this time period so much, again rests with the writers. There’s more than a little bit of Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit featured in this series, and he’s also incorporated those atrocities into his story.
In much the same way, A Small Light acknowledges and illustrates them within its narrative, but never allows those moments more screen time than necessary.
Instead, this series focuses on Miep Gies and her relationship with the Frank family, from father figure and businessman Otto, to aspiring author and globally recognized diarist Anne. This tempers the more evil elements of this historical drama with genuine human kindness, ensuring that the Frank family maintains their dignity despite the hardships they endure.
This is also a series defined through subtlety, from the reflection of a swastika in the sunglasses, to the anti-Semitic graffiti daubed on shop fronts that barely raise an eyebrow: this is a considered examination of mass genocide that doesn’t feel like a task At home.
If anything, A Small Light celebrates the small victories of seeing in a new day, deriving pleasure from spending time with family, or engaging in selfless acts for others unable to help themselves. It is a theme that is most strongly embodied through Bel Powley, as he provides this national geographic original with its moral center.
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Aided and encouraged by her husband Jan, they slowly but surely find themselves drawn into riskier pursuits, beyond hosting Otto Frank and his family. Whether it’s a more grounded rebellion through affirmative action or the transfer of young children to surrogate families. Not just making it a consistently gripping piece of television, but moving the narrative beyond Dutch borders to identifying it as a real world war.
Beyond that, Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan) gives a remarkably low-key performance as Otto Frank, immersing himself in the character and giving this show real gravitas in the process. He provides a deeply paternal foundation to this story, as he presses more and more of Miep out of necessity, in an effort to protect her family.
Part confidant and advisor to his indomitable charge, A Small Light shines brightest when these two actors perform together. Sharing thoughts and feelings with each other as an outside world tries to wipe out an entire belief system.
A Small Light is not mere fiction conjured from the mind of an isolated screenwriter, but a series based on fundamental facts, making this Disney+ drama essential for audiences after something more serious.
A Small Light is available on Disney+ from May 2nd. Watch a trailer below.