I will forever be slightly irritated by films that are set in a foreign country, but in which all the actors speak in English. I’m fully aware that the world has bigger issues to worry about, and that the avoidance of subtitles makes perfect commercial sense, but it annoys me all the same.
So things were not looking promising when Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson piped up in English with German accents near the start of Alone in Berlin (★★★, 12A cert, 103 mins), an adaptation of Hans Fallada’s bestselling novel. Thankfully, I’m not completely mad, and if a film is decent enough I can, after a few scenes, get over the language barrier. This one just about falls into that category, even if a couple of Nazis do pop up to give it the full ’Allo ’Allo! treatment at different points.
Alone in Berlin takes its story from the heroics of Otto and Elise Hampel, a working-class couple who undertook a campaign of civil disobedience against the Third Reich, leaving postcards across Germany’s capital encouraging people to rise up against Hitler’s regime.
Elise, who is renamed Anna here, had a brother who died fighting in the German army, a death that inspired her and her husband’s acts of sedition. The emotional stakes are ramped up even further with Anna and Otto losing a son rather than a sibling, and what unfolds is a historical drama that quickly morphs into a noirish crime thriller. It’s less a whodunit, more a prolonged cat-and-mouse chase, as the frequency of the notes increases and the detective leading the investigation is put under immense pressure by the SS to crack the case.
Gleeson and Thompson do a good job in conveying both Otto and Anna’s all-consuming grief and quiet determination to take a stand, but the film is, in the main, a solid rather than spectacular effort. It’s like a superior Sunday night TV drama, reasonably gripping when it should be truly nerve-shredding.
A Man Called Ove (★★★, 15 cert, 113 mins) is another adaptation of a phenomenally successful book, except this one, praise be, is in its original language. Set in Sweden, it’s the tale of a Victor Meldrew-ish widower who hates everything and everyone, and is a stickler for the rules and regulations that govern the housing estate in which he lives.
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