A heartbreaking history retold
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Mark Herman’s child’s-eye tour of the Holocaust treads such a fine line that its fate hangs in the balance until the very end. It is a kind of dark reimagining of The Secret Garden that tells the story of Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the blue-eyed son of a Nazi officer who befriends a mysterious kid (Jack Scanlon) from what he assumes is the local farm, passing him pastries through a gap in the electric fence.
The acting is heartfelt, but the film carries a heaped cargo of conceits that has it wavering between the stark and the sentimental, the nuanced and the schematic (were camp inmates really able to slope off for a casual chat with passers-by?). I held this at a suspicious arm’s length right up to the devastating closing minutes, when a tunnel is dug and the boys debate which of them should use it. One way leads to a bright shining lie; the other towards something altogether more daring and substantial. It is here that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas shows its true colours. It knuckles down, crawls on its belly and goes the way you least expect it.—Xan Brooks