A suspenseful, satisfying account of human survival against the odds, In Darkness tells the story of a group of Polish Jews in the city of Lvov, which was occupied by the Nazis in 1943. Rather than stay around and witness the liquidation of their ghetto, and their probable deportation to death camps, this group (which included children) went underground – literally – and hid in the city’s sewers for 14 long months (click the image on the right to watch the trailer).
Yet the most interesting, complex character in this real-life story isn’t one of these survivors, but a Polish sewer worker named Leopold Socha. He dislikes and distrusts Jews and only agrees to hide and shelter them underground for money. Socha knows the sewer system inside out; a petty thief, he stashes his loot down there. But as the months go by, he develops a moral compass and some feelings for the Jews, buying them food with his own money, even though it puts his own life at risk.
The accomplished veteran Polish director Agnieszka Holland has opted to tell a human-scale story that stands as a microcosm of the Holocaust. In dramatic terms, the amoral Socha is a figure similar to Oskar Schindler – a man defying his worst instincts to behave with decency and compassion. Film buffs may also recall Andrzej Wajda’s brilliant Kanal (1957), which dealt with Polish partisans in the sewers.
In Darkness has an uplifting ending, and, given that the group of survivors is small and tight-knit, an epic quality. Highly recommended. With sub-titles, it’s in the languages various characters would have spoken: Polish, German, Yiddish and Ukrainian.
In hindsight, last year’s adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s beloved classic Jane Eyre was among the best of 22 attempts to date to re-work it for film or TV. Against all odds, Japanese-American director Cary Fukunaga makes the story feel fresh, urgent and original.
He has concentrated heavily on Jane’s tough orphan childhood; the stark beauty of the story’s moorland setting becomes a visual equivalent to her steely-minded character.
Casting is also a crucial component here, and Michael Fassbender, who has become a major movie star since he shot this piece, is a handsome, flawed, even neurotic Mr Rochester. Australian actress Mia Wasihowska is every bit his match as a modern Jane, brave, devoted and passionate. Judi Dench is a welcome presence as Mrs Fairfax the housekeeper; it all adds up to an impressive package. (Available now).
Based on Owen Sheers’ novel, this is effectively an alternative history. It’s set in a remote Welsh valley in 1944: the D-Day landings have failed and Germany has invaded Britain. One morning the woman of the valley wake up to find their husbands have disappeared; in their absence, they establish a wary truce with a German patrol.
It’s paced rather slowly, and while it’s not lacking in suspense, the thought occurs that it would play better on television. The ever-reliable Andrea Riseborough acquits herself well as one of the wives. (Available March 19).
David Gritten has been Saga Magazine’s film critic for eight years. He also regularly writes about and reviews films for the Daily Telegraph. He has lived and worked in London and Los Angeles, and has visited film sets all over the world. He edited Halliwell’s film guide for two years (2008-09). He feels privileged to have met and interviewed his four major film heroes: Fred Astaire, Billy Wilder, Martin Scorsese and Pedro Almodóvar.
Read David Gritten every month in the the Out There section of Saga Magazine - full of unmissable events, book reviews, art, music, special offers and a whole lot more. Find out why we're the UK's best-selling magazine: Subscribe here now.