Review: ‘One Life’ (2023), starring Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn, Lena Olin, Romola Garai, Alex Sharp, Jonathan Pryce and Helena Bonham Carter

March 16, 2024

by Carla Hay

Anthony Hopkins in “One Life” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“One Life” (2023)

Directed by James Hawes

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1938, 1939, 1987, and 1988, in the United Kingdom, Poland, and the country then known Czechoslovakia, the dramatic film “One Life” (based on the non-fiction book of the same name) features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In 1938 and 1939, British stockbroker Nicholas “Nicky” Winton leads a crusading group of people who rescue 669 Jewish children from an impending Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, and he gets recognition for these heroic deeds about 50 years later.

Culture Audience: “One Life” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Anthony Hopkins and true stories about rescuing people from the horrors of the Nazi-led Holocaust.

Johnny Flynn in “One Life” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

If you can tolerate filmmaking that’s a bit stodgy and old-fashioned, “One Life” is worth a watch for its meaningful true story. Anthony Hopkins is memorable in a film that is often undercut by its messy timeline jumping. The movie needed a more cohesive narrative, but the story is still easy to understand and requires patience to get to the movie’s best parts toward the end of the film.

Directed by James Hawes, “One Life” was written by Lucinda Coxon and Nick Drake. The movie is based on the 2014 non-fiction book “If It’s Not Impossible…: The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton,” which has been retitled “One Life: The True Story of Sir Nicholas Winton,” written by Nicholas “Nicky” Winton’s daughter Barbara Winton, who died in 2022, at the age of 69. “One Life” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie was filmed in the Czech Republic and in the United Kingdom.

“One Life” jumps around in the timeline from 1938 and 1939 to 1987 and 1988. In 1938, Nicky Winton (played by Johnny Flynn) is a 29-year-old stockbroker living in London, when he hears from his friend Martin Blake (played by Ziggy Heath), who has been helping refugees in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The refugees want to escape, as Nazi Germany prepares to invade Czechoslovakia. Just as Nicky was going to join Martin in Prague, Martin has called to tell Nicky that Martin is going back home to London. Nicky plans to go to Prague as planned.

Nicky has a strong-willed and opinionated mother named Babette “Babi” Winton (played by Helena Bonham Carter), a widow who is originally from Germany. The family of Nicky’s father was also originally from Germany. Nicky’s parents have relatives who are Jewish. Nicky identifies as an agnostic and a socialist. Babi doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Nicky to go to Prague, because she fears that his life will be in danger. Nicky can be just as stubborn as his mother, so he goes to Prague, despite her objections.

While in Prague, Nicky meets two British people who will change his life: Trevor Chadwick (played by Alex Sharp) and Doreen Warriner (played by Romola Garai), who both work for the British Committee for Refugees in Czechoslovakia. Doreen tells Trevor that she first came to Prague 10 years earlier for a university study trip. She returned to Prague because of her love of Prague’s people. Nicky, Travor and Doreen decide to what they can to help as many children (with permission from their parents) relocate to the United Kingdom and be placed in foster homes until it’s safe for them to come back to Prague.

When they tally up the numbers, there are more than 1,000 children who could potentially be rescued. Although the vast majority of the children are Jewish, Nicky says he wants to rescue children of any or no religion. In a race against time, Nicky and his allies have to not only find enough funding for these relocations, but they also have to find enough families in the United Kingdom who will be willing to be foster families. Nicky says these foster families can be of any religion.

Many of the potential foster parents have specific requirements, such as only wanting a child of a certain gender and only being able to take care of one child. An unfortunate reality was that many siblings were separated, in order to be placed in foster homes that could take a limited number of children. And an even harsher reality was that many of the children’s parents and other loved ones would be murdered in the Holocaust.

Nicky eventually returns to London to raise money and awareness (with the help of his mother) for these child refugees. He faces an uphill battle, since many British people at the time did not want to get involved in Eastern European politics. Nicky also gets some skepticism about his intentions from Jewish leaders in Czechoslovakia and in the United Kingdom, until Nicky makes it known that he has Jewish heritage. The rescue mission, which is called Kindertransport, ends up saving 669 children.

“One Life” shows these rescue efforts in a perfunctory manner, often in montages. These scenes are intercut with elderly Nicky (played by Hopkins) in 1987 and 1988, when he is living in suburban Maidenhead, England. Senior citizen Nicky is finding some of his Kindertransport mementos and records while he is cleaning up his cluttered study. The reason for the cleanup is that Nicky’s wife Grete Winton (played by Lena Olin) has been complaining that Nicky’s mementos and records have been taking up too much space in their home, and they need room for an upcoming visit from their pregnant daughter.

Nicky was an amateur photographer who took a lot of photos of the children he rescued, as well as their Czech neighborhoods. He kept these photos, as well as meticulous records of the refugees, without knowing what happened to them. His wife Grete tells Nicky about these memories that haunt him, “You have to let go, for your own sake,” but Nicky can’t really let go. Going through these photos and records of these refugees bring these memories back to him.

Jonathan Pryce has a small role as the elderly Martin Blake, who meets Nicky for lunch and comments to him about Nicky’s Kindertransport rescue efforts in the late 1930s: “It’s incredible what you achieved.” (It’s an on-screen reunion of Prye and Hopkins, who both starred in 2019’s “The Two Popes.”) Nicky humbly says that Trevor and Doreen took more of the risks in the rescue efforts, because they stayed in Prague. “One Life” doesn’t really extend that acknowledgement, because the rest of the movie is all about Nicky getting recognition for this rescue mission.

It all starts when Nicky gets a call from a library in England saying that they’re interested in the archives that he wants to donate. At his wife’s urging, Nicky decided that these records were better off in an official institution instead of in their home. When he meets with Holocaust researcher Elisabeth “Betty” Maxwell (played by Marthe Keller), she is amazed at Nicky’s collection and says that it’s too big and important for a library and should belong in a museum.

And what do you know: Betty just happens to be married to Robert Maxwell, the Czech-born British media mogul who owned the Mirror Group Newspapers at the time and who got the publicity machine going to tell Nicky’s story. The movie doesn’t mention the later scandals associated with Robert Maxwell (who died at age 68 from a boating accident in 1991), including his history of fraud and the fact that his socialite daughter Ghislaine Maxwell became a convicted sex offender due to her relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. The publicity over Nicky’s Kindertransport archival collection results in him getting invited on the BBC talk show “That’s Life!,” which leads to the most tearjerking parts of the movie.

“One Life” is certainly an inspirational story. However, the movie could have been a little bit more gracious in showing that happened to Trevor and Doreen, instead of reducing them to brief updates in the movie’s epilogue. Hopkins and Bonham Carter give very good performances, but there’s nothing award-worthy about this movie, which has a formulaic style and at times a manner that is too plodding. The movie is called “One Life,” but the real lives from this story are at the heart of the movie and what viewers will be thinking about the most.

Bleecker Street released “One Life” in select U.S. cinemas on March 15, 2024. The movie was released in Italy and in Australia in December 2023.

Review: ‘Earwig,’ starring Paul Hilton, Romane Hemelaers, Romola Garai and Alex Lawther

September 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Romane Hemelaers in “Earwig” (Photo courtesy of Anti-Worlds, Petit Film and Frakas Production)


Directed by Lucile Hadžihalilović

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed European country in the late 1950s, the horror film “Earwig” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A widowed former soldier, who has raised his young daughter ever since her mother died in childbirth, prepares to give up custody to her to some mysterious people. 

Culture Audience: “Earwig” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of artistic European horror films that take their time in unveiling clues to the mystery and don’t let the narrative unfold in a conventional way.

Paul Hilton in “Earwig” (Photo courtesy of Anti-Worlds, Petit Film and Frakas Production)

If you prefer fast-paced horror movies with a lot of gore or jump scares, then “Earwig” might not be your cup of tea. But if you’re a horror movie fan who is open to a Gothic-influenced European story that doesn’t easily reveal the answers to the story’s mystery, then “Earwig” is a compelling option. “Earwig” director Lucile Hadžihalilović and Geoff Cox co-wrote the movie’s slow-burn screenplay, which they adapted from Brian Catling’s 2019 novel of the same name. “Earwig” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

The first 20 minutes of “Earwig” don’t have a lot of dialogue and is a bit repetitive in showing the home life of a 50-year-old former soldier named Albert Scelline (played by Paul Hilton) and his daughter Mia (played by Romane Hermelaers), who is about 7 or 8 years old. The movie takes place in an unnamed European country in the late 1950s. Albert is a somber loner who has kept Mia isolated in their apartment for her entire life.

Mia is mute, but she can occasionally be heard humming music. She also has an unusual physical characteristic: Mia has teeth made of glass. It’s never explained why she has such an unusual mouth, but Albert has to make custom-fitted teeth for her out of glass and replace the teeth on a fairly regular basis.

Glass is lovingly and sometimes obsessively inspected and perused by Albert, Mia and, by extension, director Hadžihalilović. The Scelline household has a cabinet filled with various drinking glasses. Albert and Mia like to take glasses out of this cabinet just to stare at these drinking utensils. The movie’s striking cinematography by Jonathan Ricquebourg frequently uses a technique taking some of the colored glasses and using them as a way to frame and morph visuals in a scene.

Albert also uses a drinking glass as a sound conductor when he places the glass on Mia’s bedroom door, in order to eavesdrop on his daughter’s non-verbal noises. (She has a habit of grinding her glass teeth, another sign of the characters’ fixation on glass.) And when any of the drinking glasses get broken in the household, Albert meticulously wraps each shard of glass inside a page from a newspaper.

Viewers soon find out how isolated Mia is during a phone conversation that Albert has for his first lines of dialogue in the movie. He gets a phone call from an unidentified man, who asks Albert: “How’s the girl?” Albert replies, “Everything is well, sir.”

The caller than tells Albert: “There will be no future payments. You must start preparing the girl to leave. You will bring her to us on the 6th of next month—in 13 days’ time. In the meantime, you must teach her how to behave outside.”

It’s soon shown that Mia has never worn shoes or socks before Albert follows the orders to prepare her to go outside for the first time in her life. On their first outing, Mia is both hesitant and in awe of what she’s seeing. When she and Albert go to a creek area, she is so fascinated with the water that she dives head first into it and seems to almost drown.

Why was Albert being paid to take care of his own daughter? Why is he giving up custody of her so easily? Who are the people who are making these demands? Those questions are answered in the movie, but not in an obvious way. Observant viewers will start to suspect the reason for this unusual child custody arrangement. The reason is confirmed in the last 10 minutes of the film.

Without giving away too many details, it’s enough to say that Albert encounters some other people during the 13 days in which he prepares to give up custody of Mia. A pivotal scene happens at a pub, where Albert is joined by a creepy unnamed stranger (played by Peter Van Den Begin), who invites himself to sit at the same table as Albert. Even though Albert clearly wants to be left alone, the stranger starts saying things to Albert that make Albert very uncomfortable.

The stranger is well-acquainted with the pub waitress who serves them. Her name is Celeste (played by Romola Garai), who ends up being the target of Albert’s rage when he suddenly lashes out her. Albert breaks a beer bottle and viciously stabs Celeste on her right cheek before he runs away. Albert is not arrested for this crime because Celeste doesn’t press charges.

Celeste ends up in a hospital, where her medical expenses are paid for by another enigmatic man named Laurence (played by Alex Lawther). Meanwhile, as Albert continues to prepare to give up custody of Mia, she gets a new set of glass teeth from a dentist (played by Michael Pas), which is the first time that someone other than Albert has given her a new set of teeth. Mia also adopts a black cat that adores her but hisses in the presence of Albert.

Some of the biggest clues to the mystery in “Earwig” can be found in the flashback scenes with Albert and his wife Marie (played by Anastasia Robin), who had a happy marriage with him. In fact, the only time that Albert is seen smiling is in a flashback with Marie. This marital bliss serves as a motivation and catalyst for much of what happens to Albert and the decisions that he made in his life.

“Earwig” is the type of movie that will be remembered less for the actors’ performances (which are perfectly adequate) and more for the way the story can be unpeeled in layers. “Earwig” composer Augustin Viard’s chilling piano-based score enhances the mood of growing dread that spreads throughout the film. It’s the type of spooky movie where even when it’s daylight, the sun doesn’t shine too brightly.

Viewers need patience and a keen sense of observation to understand what “Earwig” director Hadžihalilović is conveying with the dark secrets that are eventually revealed in this story. It’s the type of movie where a lot can be deciphered by what’s implied but not portrayed on screen. What “Earwig” shows in a very shrouded and haunting way is that people can sometimes go to extremes to have some moments of happiness, even if most of their lives are plagued by misery.

UPDATE: Juno Films will release “Earwig” in New York City on July 15, 2022, with a limited release in more U.S. cities to follow.

Review: ‘Amulet,’ starring Alec Secareanu, Carla Juri and Imelda Staunton

July 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Alec Secareanu and Carla Juri in “Amulet” (Photo by Rob Baker Ashton/Magnet Releasing)


Directed by Romola Garai

Culture Representation: Taking place in England and unnamed European countries in unspecified modern time periods, the horror film “Amulet” has an almost all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash:  A former soldier-turned-Ph.D. philosophy student takes a job in London as a live-in handyman in a creepy house that’s occupied by a young woman and her mysterious mother, who lives as a recluse in the house’s attic.

Culture Audience: “Amulet” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that excel in creating a foreboding atmosphere, but makes viewers watch a lot of extremely slow-paced scenes to get to the movie’s underlying messages and plot twists.

Imelda Staunton in “Amulet” (Photo by Rob Baker Ashton/Magnet Releasing)

The horror film “Amulet” (written and directed by Romola Garai) makes a bold effort to flip a lot of tropes and shatter a lot of stereotypes that are seen all too often in psychological thrillers. But in doing so, the movie’s execution falls short of being completely engaging, since it’s bogged down by extremely slow pacing. And making matters worse, several parts of the movie have dialogue and reactions that are so simple-minded, it makes you question the intelligence of the Ph. D. student who’s one of the movie’s main characters.

People who hate movies that have flashbacks that might be confusing, be warned: “Amulet” is full of these types of flashbacks. The gist of the story is that there’s a former war soldier from an unnamed continental European country who has ended up in a haunted house in London. The movie never states what war he was in, but he keeps having nightmare flashbacks to that war, where he worked for a time as a lone soldier manning a checkpoint booth on a very deserted road in a wooded area.

The former soldier’s name is Tomaz (played by Alec Secareanu), and somehow he’s ended up in England, where he’s enrolled in a doctorate program for philosophy. Tomaz (who has a beard in the present day) keeps having nightmares about his time as a soldier, when he didn’t have a beard. (It’s one of the ways that the movie distinguishes between the past and the present.)

Tomaz’s nightmares are shown as flashbacks in non-chronological order, so viewers have to piece together the puzzle of this story. It might be a challenge for viewers who have short attention spans or who are watching this often-dull movie with other distractions.

The most important things to know about the flashbacks are that while Tomaz was a soldier, he found an amulet buried in the woods, and he got to know a woman in distress whom he met when she ran to the checkpoint and collapsed in front of him. The checkpoint is located in the same wooded area where Tomaz found the amulet.

The woman’s name is Miriam (played by Angeliki Papoulia), and when Tomaz first saw her running toward the checkpoint, he yelled at her to stop and that if she didn’t stop, he was going to shoot. Just as Tomaz raised his gun to shoot her, she collapsed in front of him. It’s shown in flashbacks that after Miriam regained consciousness with Tomaz’s help, they began having conversations and he became her protector, since she apparently needed food and shelter.

Flash forward to the present day. While Tomaz has been working on his dissertation in London, he’s ended up living with some homeless people in an abandoned church. A fire breaks out at the church, so the homeless people scatter.

The next thing you know, a bloodied Tomaz is being treated at a hospital. A nurse asks him, “Who tied you up?” He replies, “Friends. It was a joke.” Tomaz then mentions that he had a bag with him but it’s now missing.

The nurse tells him that Tomaz needs to speak to the orderly, who has the bag and a message for him. While on his way to retrieve his bag, Tomas passes by a room where he sees a pregnant woman sitting on a floor, and she’s crying out in pain because she’s in labor. The only purpose of this deliberately confusing scene is to set the tone for themes of some very female-centric pain that’s shown later in the story.

Why is Tomaz homeless? The movie might answer that question, but in the meantime, Tomaz finds a new place to live when a nun from the local diocese, who knows that Tomaz was one of the squatters in the burned church, tells him about a house that needs a live-in handyman.

The nun’s name is Sister Claire (played by Imelda Staunton), and she tells Tomaz that the people in the house are offering free room and board in exchange for him doing repairs and renovations. And because this is a horror movie, you can bet that some very bad things are going to happen in this house.

The cottage-styled house looks quaint and charming on the outside, but on the inside there’s a lot of emotional rot and turmoil. There are two people who live in the house: Magda (played by Carla Juri), a woman in her 20s and her unnamed mother (played by Anah Ruddin), who lives as an ailing recluse upstairs in the attic. The mother can often be heard moaning in pain, and Tomaz tries to avoid being in contact with her as much as possible.

As Tomaz gets to know Magda, he begins to see that she is a very naïve, sheltered and passive woman. She says she hasn’t traveled outside of the city, nor does she show an interest in traveling or going outside her comfort zone. And there are signs that she doesn’t have much experience with romance or dating.

But what disturbs Tomaz the most is that Magda’s mother appears to be physically abusing Magda. (He sees Magda secretly covering her bruises and possible bite marks with bandages.) And Tomaz is also starting to get creeped out by strange things that are happening in the house.

He finds a mysterious white bat-like creature in the bathroom toilet, which is filled with a disgusting dark liquid. Tomaz kills the creature by stomping on it. Magda is there too, but she oddly doesn’t seem as frightened by this bat-like creature in the same way as Tomaz.

And when Tomaz does some ceiling repairs, he sees (or is it hallucinates?) that the ceiling has engravings that look a lot like the engravings on the amulet he found in the woods. It startles him so much that falls off a ladder while he’s looking at the ceiling. Tomaz believes that the engravings are to ward off evil spirits.

Magda doesn’t see a lot of the same things in the house that Tomaz does, so he begins to wonder if he’s going crazy. Tomaz has also seen what Magda’s mother looks like, and she’s decrepit-looking old woman who would be a stereotypical example of what a witch is supposed to look like. Is it any wonder that Tomaz thinks that maybe Magda’s mother is behind some of the eerie things that he’s experiencing in the house?

Tomaz tells his suspicions to Sister Claire and says that he thinks Magda’s mother doesn’t want him in the house. The nun replies: “What we want isn’t always what we need.” At least once during the story, Tomaz threatens to quit.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Tomaz and Magda starts to become more emotionally intimate. It’s obvious that she wants something sexual to happen between them. However, Tomaz is very resistant and tries to let Magda down easy without insulting her. (After all, she’s technically one of his bosses.)

Unfortunately, the Magda character is written in such a simple-minded way, that the conversations she has with Tomaz are excruciating to watch. Magda says things like this to Tomaz about his soldier past: “Did you kill people? It’s a sin to waste your life.” And when the emotionally stunted Magda starts to show a romantic interest in Tomaz, it’s like watching an adolescent girl trying to be sexually attractive to a grown man. Very cringeworthy.

Sister Claire is an interesting character (and Staunton is by far the best actor in this cast), but she isn’t in the movie enough to bring more energy to this often-listless story. Because “Amulet” is told from Tomaz’s perspective, he spends most of the movie being confused about what’s going on in the house while dealing with his nightmare flashbacks that appear to seep into his current life. Therefore, viewers have to figure out what might be “real” and what might be a “delusion.”

“Amulet” is the first feature film for Garai as a writer/director. She is also known as an actress who’s appeared in British TV series such as “The Hour” and the 2009 miniseries adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” which starred Garai in the title role. Most of the actors in “Amulet” are well-cast in this movie, except for Juri, who gives a very annoying performance.

Although the production design, cinematography, visual effects and cinematography suit this horror film very well, the weak links are the movie’s screenplay, editing and overall direction. The characters often speak with long pauses, which might work for a play on stage. But this is a horror movie, and lethargic dialogue and sluggish pacing are antidotes to the type of suspense that’s crucial for any good horror flick.

“Amulet” certainly deserves a lot of credit for having some twist-filled elements that add intrigue to the story. It’s too bad that these plot twists arrive so late in the film, that a lot of bored viewers might stop watching the movie before getting to the film’s shock-intended conclusion.

Magnet Releasing released “Amulet” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on July 24, 2020.

Review: ‘The Windermere Children,’ starring Thomas Kretschmann, Romola Garai, Tim McInnerny, Iain Glen, Tomasz Studzinski and Kacper Swietek

April 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

“The Windermere Children,” pictured from left to right: Anna Maciejewska, Tomasz Studzinski, Lukasz Zieba, Kuba Sprenger, Marek Wrobelewski, Jakub Jankiewicz, Pascal Fischer and Kacper Swietek (Photo courtesy of PBS)

“The Windermere Children”

Directed by Michael Samuels 

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1945, shortly near the end of World War II, the drama “The Windermere Children” is based on a true story of how a group of Jewish orphans who survived the Holocaust are brought to a group home in England to start new lives.

Culture Clash: The orphans experience difficult recoveries from their trauma, as well as anti-Semitism from some of the local residents.

Culture Audience: “The Windermere Children” will appeal mostly to people who are interested in stories about orphans or Holocaust survivors.

Thomas Kretschmann (standing) in “The Windermere Children” (Photo courtesy of PBS)

Most stories about Holocaust survivors tend to be about what their lives are like years after World War II ended. But the dramatic film “The Windermere Children” (which is inspired by true events) tells the story of what happened in August 1945, shortly near the official end of World War II, when a group of about 300 Jewish orphans were brought from continental Europe (many were from Poland) to an estate in England as refugees. Because almost all of the children did not have relatives to claim them, the orphans had to start new lives in England.

Almost all of the children survived concentration camps and are going through severe trauma. They arrive by bus to Calgarth Estate, which is located by Lake Windermere. The estate has been turned into a group home for the children, whose transition and rehabilitation will be aided by a group of counselors and volunteers. Leading this group is German psychologist Oscar Friedmann (played by Thomas Kretschmann), whose specialty is child psychology.

Other people who are part of the team are athletic coach Jock Lawrence (played by Ian Glen); art therapist Marie Paneth (Romola Garai); philanthropist Leonard Montefiore (Tim McInnerny); and married couple Georg Lauer (played by Philipp Christopher) and Edith Lauer (Anna Schumacher). Friedmann used to run an institution for troubled boys in Germany, but nothing quite prepares him for what he will experience with these orphans.

“The Windemere Children” (Michael Samuels and written by Simon Block) shows the somewhat chaotic and anxiety-filled arrival of the children by bus (one boy vomits on Mr. Montefiore as soon as he’s greeted by Montefiore), but then the teenagers who will be the main orphan characters in the story start to come into focus. (The ones who get the most screen time and backstories are the boys.)

Arek Hershlikovicz (played by Tomasz Studzinski) is a lanky, pimple-faced rebel. He shows an early romantic interest in Sala (played by Anna Maciejewska), who becomes his girlfriend. Icek “Ike” Alterman (played by Kuba Sprenger) is a bit of a charming flirt, and he finds out soon upon arriving that he’s attracted to an English girl. Schmuel “Sam” Laskier (played by Marek Wrobelewski) is a sorrowful loner. Ben Helfgott (played by Pascal Fischer) is a superb athlete, who quickly becomes a favorite of Coach Lawrence.

Chaim Olmer (played by Kacper Swietek) had assumed the identity of a boy named Ephraim Minsburg in order to survive, and the alias has stuck, but Chaim now wants to be known by his real name so that his sister can find him. Salek Falinower (played by Jakub Jankiewicz) is another loner, and he’s more likely than Sam to separate himself from the rest of the group. (He has to be gently coaxed by Friedmann to get out of the bus.) Salek is convinced that he will be reunited with his missing brother Chiel someday, even though everyone keeps telling him that there’s almost no chance that Chiel has survived.

Because most of the children have been through the trauma of concentration camps, their healing and rehabilitation are emotionally tough on them. The younger children who lived out on the streets are inseparable. During a walk in the woods, they are terrified by the presence of a small dog being walked by a local woman. The children run off and hide and have to be searched for by a counselor.

Another scene in the movie shows how something as simple as putting bread on the tables in the dining hall can spark a feeding frenzy, as the children grab the bread and run to their rooms to either eat the bread quickly or hide it from others. Eventually, the children learn that food at the orphanage is plentiful and they don’t have to act like paranoid scavengers and hoarders in order to get a meal.

Medical exams are also filled with anxiety and sometimes bad news. Many of the children are malnourished and recovering from physical abuse, such as beatings, whippings and burns. It’s not uncommon for them to have missing or decaying teeth. And the children also have to be de-loused. The clothes they arrived in are also burned, which is symbolic of them leaving their previous lives behind.

It’s while the children are being de-loused outdoors that they have an unpleasant encounter with some of the local residents. A group of boys who are in the same age group watch from afar and try to taunt them. Arek sees that the local boys’ reactions are out of fear and ignorance, so he approaches them, covered in de-lousing powder and extends his hand as if to give a handshake. One of the taunting boys tentatively takes Arek’s hand, but instead of shaking the hand, Arek pulls the terrified boy into the de-lousing shed. The other local boys run off and leave their bicycles behind, which some of the orphans gleefully steal.

Stealing becomes a habit for some of the orphans, and they are lectured not to do it by their elders at the orphanage. Meanwhile, the orphans are taught English and are encouraged by Ms. Paneth to paint their inner thoughts, without instruction rules or judgment on technique. It’s welcome therapy for many of the children, but one disturbing portrait by a child brings the art teacher to tears. And, as the movie shows, the children have constant nightmares and can be heard screaming and sobbing throughout the night.

During a trip to a local ice-cream parlor, the kids experience more anti-Semitism when the same group of boys who previously tried to taunt them show up at near the shop and give a Nazi salute, Friedmann than shames the boys by telling them that these children’s families were slaughtered. The boys sheepishly walk away, but the Jewish orphans see that anti-Semitism is everywhere, even in a country that fought against the Nazis in World War II.

Meanwhile, Coach Lawrence, a Scotsman who oversees the boys’ soccer playing, tries to toughen them up by telling them that people in the “real world” won’t care about them being Jewish refugees and they can’t use it as an excuse to get special treatment. Privately, Lawrence tells Friedmann that it might be time to start placing the kids into foster homes, in order to improve the strained relations between the locals and the refugees. Some of the locals are very open about their resentment that the estate land and taxpayer money are helping fund the refugees at the group home.

The most devastating part of the movie is when the Red Cross arrives to bring news about the orphans’ families. Most of the children had been holding out glimmers of hope that someone in their family would still be alive. But the news is as bad as expected. Arek is so emotionally wounded to find out that his entire family has been murdered the he verbally lashes out at Donna, and it puts an enormous strain on their relationship. There is a bright spot toward the end of the movie, which won’t be revealed in this review, but it’s enough to say that this happy moment is a testament to the power of hope.

The epilogue of the film takes a similar approach to what “Schindler’s List” did at the end: It shows some of the real-life  survivors returning to the place depicted in the movie, along with flashbacks to the actors who portrayed them in the movie. The real-life Windermere children who give comments at the end of the film are Arek Hersh (who changed his last name from Hershlikovicz), Chaim “Harry” Olmer, Ben Helfgott and Schmuel “Sam” Laskier and Icek “Ike” Alterman.

“The Windermere Children” is an emotionally powerful film (although by no means as harrowing and masterfully made as “Schindler’s List”) that tells an important part of the Holocaust refugee story. The film’s cast members give solid performances, but the movie is heavily slanted toward the male perspective of these children’s experiences, while the female perspective isn’t given as much importance. There’s a one-hour documentary called “The Windermere Children: In Their Own Words,” which is worth watching for a more balanced gender representation and for more testimonials from the survivors. The documentary is a great complement to this dramatic film’s version of their story.

PBS had the U.S. TV premiere of “The Windermere Children” on April 5, 2020. BBC Two had movie’s U.K. TV premiere on January 27, 2020.

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