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Book-to-film review: Waiting for Anya

13/02/2021 7:29 AM
Book-to-film review: Waiting for Anya

gr's resident book and film buff reviews Waiting for Anya, based on the book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo.

Benjamin, a Jewish Frenchman, and his daughter Anya escape from the Nazis during World War II. They are separated but not until Anya has been told to head for grandma’s place should that happen. Benjamin arrives in the commune of Lescun in south-west France to be hidden by his mother-in-law and await the arrival of Anya.

While watching over his flock, a young shepherd, Jo, sees Benjamin and follows him to the home of Horcada, a widow who lives on the outskirts of Jo’s village. She is hiding Jewish children; Benjamin and others are smuggling them over the Pyrenees to Spain and safety. Jo soon realises most of the villagers are in on the secret and insists on helping.

The rescuing of the children becomes hazardous when a contingent of German soldiers is billeted in the village.

Horcada, who is part of an organisation throughout regional France that are rescuing the youngsters, tells Jo that some people collect coins or stamps; Jewish children collect enemies of the Reich.  

Director Ben Cookson and scriptwriter Toby Torlesse have adapted Michael Morpurgo’s young adult novel for the screen. It’s a sensitively told coming-of-age story that will not shock or distress the audience for whom it’s meant but will open the eyes of a new generation to the quiet heroes of World War II: French villagers who passed Jewish children from one village to another until they could be taken over the Pyrenees.

There are some fine performances, notably from Noah Schapp as Jo, Anjelica Huston as Horcada and Declan Cole as Jo’s developmentally disadvantaged friend. The beauty of the pastoral French landscape is captured skilfully by Gerry Vasbenter’s camera, and James Seymour Brett has included in his musical score many popular local melodies.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Reviewed by Clive Hodges

Classification: M (violence, moderate impact) running time: 1 hour 49 minutes; language: English; drama.