SXSW TV Recap: A Small Light

Disney+ series tells the story of the family that hid Anne Frank

credit: National Geographic for Disney/Dusan Martincek

Most everyone is familiar with the name Anne Frank (and if you aren’t, you should be). But most of us know little about Miep Gies, the young woman who hid Anne along with her family and the others from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II, and the focus of SXSW selection A Small Light.

The series (premiering on Disney+ later this year) is about Miep and what the decision to hide the Franks (and, as we’ll learn, many others) from the Nazis during their occupation of the Netherlands.

A Small Light depicts Miep a party girl, with no direction in life. Forced by her adoptive parents (she was originally from Austria) to stop being shiftless, she lands a job with Otto Frank, a German immigrant who had moved with his family to Amsterdam to open an office of the company he worked for, Opekta. He, of course, was also fleeing to escape the rise of the Nazis, but when the Germans invade he Frank asks Miep to hide him and his family: Without hesitation, she says yes.

In the two episodes (deftly directed by Booksmart cowriter Susanna Vogel) shown at the SXSW premiere, Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) plays Miep as immediately likeable and relatable as a modern young woman who likes to enjoy life, but may not be super-responsible. Otto Frank is played by the terrific Liev Schreiber, and the episodes introdue the rest of the Frank family along with others Miep hides in the Opekta attic, including Anne (played by newcomer Billie Boullet) and Dr. Pfeffer (Noah Taylor).

During the Q&A, the creators of the show were asked about their inspiration. Joan Rater explained that while she and her husband, Tony Phelan, were touring the Anne Frank House with their children, she realized they realized that their son was the same age as Miep was when she took in the Franks. She thought about her son, who is smart but also maybe doesn’t have a lot of common sense, and wondered if maybe Miep was the same. The couple decided it was time to tell her story.

We all know the tragic end of the story, of course. What we don’t know are the lengths that Miep, her co-workers, her husband, Jan Gies (Jole Cole), and the resistance went to to keep the Franks and the others hidden away from the Nazis. The creators said they didn’t want “play the end”, meaning, yes, everyone knows what happens to the Franks in the end, but they are telling the story about the events that lead up to the tragedy. When asked about how to balance the tone of the show (as there are definitely moments of humor shown), the creators said what happened in the Annex has been “frozen in history”. They wanted to depict the story showing that everyone involved weren’t living a reverent life: they were just living life, period.

A Small Light

TV Premieres, World Premiere

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