When I heard that National Geographic was creating A Small Light, a series about Miep Gies, one of the people who helped hide Anne Frank and her family in Amsterdam during the Holocaust, I was not particularly looking forward to it. After Ari Folman’s animated film, Where is Anne Frank, I felt there had been enough dramatizations of her story for the time being.
So when I watched A Small Light, which is currently streaming in Israel on Disney+, it was a pleasant and very welcome surprise to discover that it is an excellent series, which portrays Miep (Bel Powley) as a memorable and flawed heroine. A Small Light tells a story that is familiar to most of us with new vibrance, as it is told from a point of view we haven’t seen before.
Tackling the challenge of portraying the Franks and their allies
Anne (Billie Boullet) is a supporting character in this series in which its creators tackle the challenge of the fact that we know how this tragic story ended. It does this by examining what drove a young woman like Miep to risk her life for Otto Frank (Liev Schreiber), her employer at a company that made a food additive used in jam, and his family.
As his secretary, she had become close to Otto’s family, but she eventually also agreed to help hide his family friends and her own Jewish dentist (Noah Taylor), as well as several other Jews. The others were mainly Jewish children and a student wanted by the Nazis, whom she and her husband, Jan (Joe Cole), helped smuggle to families who hid them in the country.
Again, although we do know the outcome, the details of how she did what she did are fascinating. The story also illustrates how those who did the right thing during the Holocaust were often outsiders.
Miep was born in Austria to a struggling single mother. After Miep become ill, her mother sent her to live with a large Dutch family, who adopted her. A Small Light shows that while she felt loved by her adoptive family, she always felt different from those around her, and was especially close to her brother, who was gay and who trusted her with this secret. After finishing high school, she was living a hard-partying life until getting hired by Otto Frank, and a bond between them developed.
I was taken aback when I learned that Schreiber, whom I associate with his most famous role, the title character in Ray Donovan, a violent, amoral fixer, would play this part, but he is a revelation. He projects a quiet strength and you can see how he would inspire endless loyalty in his secretary and also how he raised such a sensitive and creative daughter.
Miep and her husband, who became involved in the Dutch Resistance, had to be creative as well to find ways to feed eight people during a time of rationing and war for two years. She had many tricks to avoid suspicions, such as going to different grocers and pretending she was shopping only for herself and her husband. It was a huge burden for even the most mature person to take on, but in this series' portrayal, Miep was immature, impulsive, and very emotional, yet charming. She used her charm to do things like convince butchers to sell her a little extra meat or to get Margot (Ashley Brooke) through a Nazi roadblock on her way to the hiding place.
BEL POWLEY, who starred in the movie, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, is brilliant in the lead role, and through her appealing performance, she gets inside Miep’s head and makes us understand how a seemingly ordinary person would rise to such feats of heroism.
What the series shows is that while most people, like Miep’s friend who dates a Nazi, were willing to at least look the other way as the Nazis persecuted the Jews – and of course, many actively collaborated – there were others, like Miep and Jan, who did not lose their humanity for a second, who didn’t play psychological games with themselves. People were coming to kill their friends and to kill children and they had to do anything they could to save them. It seems that for them it was that simple. The writing is full of small, human moments that make the story compelling.
The series does not delve into the controversy over who turned in the Franks and the others in hiding to the Nazis, but it is clear from this series that it could have been many people and it seems unlikely we will ever find out exactly what happened. The Nazis did not believe that the Franks had fled to Switzerland, which was the cover story – the geography of the Netherlands made escape particularly difficult – and kept an eye on Miep, often harassing her.
In retrospect, the fact that they were caught is not at all surprising and the real surprise is that Miep was able to keep them hidden for so long. In any case, this series brings her story to life with great vividness and every episode passed my 10-minute test – I would start watching, and when I checked the time, I had always gotten more than 10 minutes into an episode. When a series is just so-so, I’ll check the time and discover I’m only two minutes in and I’ll think, “Oh, no, I still have to watch almost an hour.” The opposite was true here, which is the greatest compliment I can give.
BEL POWLEY played Princess Margaret in the movie, A Royal Night Out, so that’s the segue into the television coverage of the celebration of the coronation of King Charles III. The actual coronation will take place on May 6 and on May 7 at 10 p.m. Israel time, Yes Drama (and Yes VOD and StingTV) will broadcast the coronation concert live. The concert will feature performances by popular artists including Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, Steve Winwood, Take That, Andrea Bocelli and many others, as well as videos from Sir Tom Jones, Dame Joan Collins, Winnie the Pooh and other iconic names. Think of it as a musical episode of The Crown.
Hot 8 is marking King Charles’ big day with several documentaries that will be shown on Hot 8 and Hot VOD starting on May 3 and continuing throughout the week: Charles III, the New King; My King Charles; and Born to Be King.