‘A Small Light’ Review: A Story of Heroism & Courage

Nat Geo tells the remarkable story of Anne Frank from an entirely new perspective in the upcoming biographical-drama ‘A Small Light.’

Miep Gies, played by Bel Powley, and Otto Frank, played by Liev Schreiber, watch as Nazi soldiers march down the street in Amsterdam in A SMALL LIGHT. (Photo credit: National Geographic for Disney/Dusan Martincek)

The incredibly moving limited-series, ‘A Small Light’ tells the iconic story of Anne Frank from a new perspective as it shines a bright light on the real-life heroic efforts of Miep Gies – the young woman who played a critical role in hiding the Frank family during WWII. The upcoming Disney+ series full of heart, bravery and perseverance tells an inspiring story that is just as relevant to society today. 

Bel Powley (Miep) and Liev Schreiber (Otto) star in the eight-episode series that tells the infamous Anne Frank story from the point of view of one of her protectors. The dramatized series, “inspired by actual events” focuses on the Dutch civilian Miep Gies, who started off as just a secretary, and is now tasked with the incredibly dangerous duty of helping the Franks hide for two years during the Nazi occupation in Amsterdam.

Anne Franks diary “The Diary of a Young Girl” is one of the most significant symbols and documents that recounted life in hiding during the Holocaust and has everlastingly changed the world. Her recounts of her fears and hopes amid the terrors has impacted generations, with Anne becoming one of history’s most important figures. With over 30 million copies sold her diary has been translated into 70 different languages.

Bel Powley as Miep Gies in A SMALL LIGHT. (Credit: National Geographic for Disney/Dusan Martincek)

National Geographic took this opportunity to spotlight the Franks’ extensive plan and evasion by connecting them to the outside world through Miep. Instead of highlighting their confinements to the attic, the series centers on the brave employees who sacrifice their own safety and time to bring the Frank’s news and food. 

Miep Gies was a crucial part of the story of Anne Frank, having been a loyal employee and friend for years it only makes sense to tell her perspective. Liev Schreiber delivers a heartfelt and profoundly honest performance as Otto as he is compelled to ask Miep and his employees to risk their lives to help protect his family and friends. Loyalty and dignity are integral themes prevalent throughout the entire series. 

The pilot episode begins with a nerve-wrecking and frightening scene as Miep guides a nervous Margot Frank by bicycle through a Nazi checkpoint. Her first task is to get Margot (Ashley Brooke) safely into the secret hiding place: the annex where the Frank family and other close friends will hide for two years from 1942 until their fateful discovery in 1944.

During a time when opinions could get you killed – Miep Gies was carefree, opinionated, and free-spirited. Show-runners and co-creators Tony Phelan and Joan Rater wanted to demonstrate this courage in a way that would resonate with audiences today. They successfully told this momentous story in a modern contemporary fashion that preserved the historical significance and accuracy of these prominent figures. ‘A Small Light’ makes Miep’s story more relevant now than ever in a time of racial and religious tensions. The series presents to audiences the questions “What would you do in Miep’s position, and (in modern times) would you stand up to hatred?

Margot Frank, played by Ashley Brooke, and Miep Gies, played by Bel Powley, arrive at a government checkpoint in A SMALL LIGHT. (Photo credit: National Geographic for Disney/Dusan Martincek)

Rising British actress Bel Powley (Masters of the Air) brings Miep to life showcasing her colorful bubbly spirit, confidence and tenacity. The stubborn and quirky young woman in her desperation to prove herself responsible to her adoptive Dutch family is struggling to find a job. That is until she makes a formidable impression on businessman Otto Frank who seems amused by her determination and spontaneity, he hires her as a his secretary. Once things begin to get difficult and dangerous for Jewish residents, the Franks, along with their friends the Van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer go into hiding above Otto’s offices with Miep’s help, as she becomes essential to their survival.

Powley channels Mieps rebelliousness, fearlessness and loyalty to her new boss. She also captures her contempt for the Germans, unwavering support for the repressed Jews and determination to provide for the Franks. The growing violence doesn’t shake her purpose as she becomes more adamant about helping anyone she can, even finding new and dangerous ways to feed everyone. 

Jan, played by Joe Cole, receives a visit from Miep, played by Bel Powley in A SMALL LIGHT. (Photo credit: National Geographic for Disney/Dusan Martincek)

The series follows her courageous efforts throughout the course of the war alongside her husband, Jan (Joe Cole), who helps the Dutch resistance get Jewish children out of Amsterdam. Bel has great chemistry with her on-screen husband Jan played by Peaky Blinders’ Joe Cole. A lot of time is devoted to the relationship between Miep and Jan, which adds a balance of romance and humor during these tumultuous times. However, the most prominent emotional arc is the friendship between Miep and Otto. 

Powley’s performance stands out the most whenever these two are on screen. Some of the series best moments are the simple conversations between the two that can suddenly bring you to tears. Schreiber delivers a believable, powerful and exquisite performance as Otto Frank. He captures the emotional spirit of the loving father who would do anything to protect his family. From his rigid ideologies, to his generosity and clever sense of humor Schreiber embodies Otto’s persona.

While this is ultimately a heart-breaking story, the series manages to display awe-inspiring moments of love, joy, and family bonding throughout. Through flashbacks we learned that Miep was sent away as a child for her health by her Austrian mother. Although she was adopted by a Dutch family and kept safe she had to keep her origins discrete. She eventually forms a bond and close relationship with the tight-knit Frank family.

Bille Boullet who plays a radiant and spunky Anne Frank, is ultimately fearless and embodies her innocence. She tactfully displays a curious, hopeful and feisty young girl who tries to uplift her family during these tragic times. Meanwhile her sister, Margot mentioned above grows braver through her friendship with Miep, and even their mother Edith (Amira Casar) also takes a liking to Miep, taking her under her wing as somewhat of a surrogate child. 

Edith Frank, played by Amira Casar, and her daughters Margot, played by Ashley Brooke, and Anne, played by Billie Boullet, peer around the doorway in A SMALL LIGHT. (Credit: National Geographic for Disney/Dusan Martincek)

The series makes us hopeful that the tenants living in the attic will somehow survive. It takes us through a rollercoaster of emotions – from charming and funny one moment to frightening and unsettling the next. Of course we know the tragic ending of this story, however the dramatization does not take away from the devastation of the 1944 raid or make it any easier to watch. 

Although the series could up the intensity and portray more accuracy in the brutality that Jewish citizens actually faced, which was only touched upon – ‘A Small Light’ is still impactful, and a remarkable story of bravery and perseverance. From the incredible recreation of Forties Amsterdam, to the impeccable archival fashion and exceptional cast and performances, the limited-series is an intriguing and thought-provoking triumph.

Overall, a truly inspiring heart-felt story that managed to find little moments of compassion and joy in tragedy. With a contemporary way of story-telling, ‘A Small Light’ centers on the importance of preserving history, virtue, and telling your story.

A SMALL LIGHT will have a multiple launch on Monday, May 1, at 9/8c with a simulcast across National Geographic, Nat Geo WILD and Lifetime.

On Saturday, May 6 at 8/7c, Freeform will encore the premiere episodes. For the full series run, two episodes will debut every Monday at 9/8c on National Geographic, stream the next day on Disney+ and Hulu, and will be available on the Nat Geo TV and ABC apps.

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