The Reel Review
The Diary of Anne Frank, chronicling her Jewish family’s two years in hiding in Amsterdam from the Nazis in World War II, is etched in the memories of people worldwide. This historical drama tells the iconic tale from the perspective of Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who with her husband Jan, hid the Frank and van Pels families and Franz Pfeffer in a Secret Annex above Otto Frank’s business. Bel Powley and Liev Schrieber star in this eight-episode National Geographic miniseries.
Telling the story through the eyes of one of the helpers is a fresh and clever move, capturing the dimming of Miep’s wide-eyed idealism and growing moral conviction and courage under the repression of the occupying Nazis. Series creators Tony Phelan and Joan Rater (Grey’s Anatomy) manage the tonal balance perfectly, portraying Mies as an outgoing, regular girl with typical hopes and dreams. There are plenty of harrowing moments throughout. One tense scene in the first episode, where Miep moves Anne Frank’s older sister Margot across a Nazi checkpoint to their hiding place, has all the tension of a spy thriller.
Powley gives an impassioned, nuanced performance, as does Schrieber, as Anne and Margot’s father Otto. The critical scenes showing their burgeoning friendship are subtle and emotionally impactful, illustrating why Mies was so eager to help the Franks. While the series does drag a bit at times, it illustrates the joy of people living their lives to their fullest under the cloud of awfulness. A Small Light is a compelling story of a single, ordinary person who undertook extraordinary acts out of compassion for her friend and employer.
• Miep Gies died in 2010, at the age of 100. Her husband Jan died in 1993.
• A Small Light was filmed in Amsterdam and in Prague and Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic