A Memorandum Of It

Adapted from John Boyne’s bestselling 'young adult' novel, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of eight year old Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the son of the Nazi commander at Auschwitz, who strikes up a friendship with a Jewish boy Shmuel through the fence surrounding the camp, behind their house in the countryside.

A lonely, inquisitive child, Bruno is ignored by his career-minded father (David Thewlis), cosseted by his mother (Vera Farminga) and tormented by his teenage sister Gretel (Amber Beattie). The family have recently left Berlin to arrive at a beautiful Bauhaus manor in the country, beside what Bruno thinks is a ‘farm’. Wandering about one day, Bruno meets Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a skinny, bald-headed boy on the other side of an electrified fence, and the two strike up a friendship. Bruno wants a companion, someone to talk to, in part to help him understand what is going on around him. Shmuel only wants something to eat.

As an attempt to humanise the inhumane, and re-frame a terrible history in a way children can understand and empathise with, Boy In The Striped Pyjamas succeeds for the most part, but Harman’s adaptation falls prey to narrative blind alleys and emotional clichés without ever losing a nagging sense of over-simplification. He frames these events as a fable, establishing Bruno and Shmuel as allegorical archetypes but cannot then ground them in their time and place – a serious flaw when the time is the Holocaust and the place is Auschwitz. It is never a good thing when a film calls to mind the unutterably trite Life Is Beautiful and while Harman’s film doesn’t go as far as making a cartoon out of unfathomable suffering, there are moments when the film’s awkward artificiality are impossible to ignore.

Still, this is an interesting treatment of an interesting story, convincingly played by the two young leads. In the third act, Bruno cheerfully initiates a game, having spied on a screening of a propaganda film, setting in train a series of dreadful events that are beautifully crafted into a deeply powerful dénouement as Harman moves from the realm of fairytales to the stuff of nightmares. Elegantly photographed and delicately poised, there is enough in the last half hour to carry the entire film.

The headline comes from a passage in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures In Wonderland: "The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget!" "You will, though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it".

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