Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Tag: A Small Light

“A Small Light” at SXSW is National Geographic Series Rediscovering the Anne Frank Story

The official synopsis for “A Small Light:”  “Based on an inspiring true story, Miep Gies was  young, carefree and opinionated — at a time when opinions got you killed ― when Otto Frank asked her to help hide his family from the Nazis during WWII. Told with a modern sensibility, A SMALL LIGHT shakes the cobwebs off history and makes Miep’s story feel relevant, forcing audiences to ask themselves what they would have done in Miep’s shoes; and in modern times, asking if they would have the courage to stand up to hatred. Some stood by, Miep stood up.” The powerful, eight-part limited series is produced by ABC Signature and Keshet Studios and will begin airing on May 1st. (See last paragraph for channels and times).

Bel Powley as Miep Gies. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The series stars Bel Powley as Miep and Liev Schreiber as Otto Frank. Anne Frank is portrayed by 17-year-old British actress Billie Boulet (“The Worst Witch,” “The Power”) and her older sister, Margot, is portrayed by Ashley Brooke (“The White House Plumbers,” “Troop Zero”). Ashley shared during the Q&A that her own grandmother was a Holocaust concentration camp survivor.

The opening episodes of the series build the character of Miep.  “A Small Light” is the story of Miep Gies ; Born. Hermine Santruschitz. 15 February 1909. Vienna, Austria-Hungary (Now Austria) ; Died, 11 January 2010 (2010-01-11) (aged 100). Hoorn, Netherlands. Miep  was sent from her native Vienna, Austria to be raised by the Gies family because her health was fragile. Her nuclear family felt it was in her best interests to relocate her to Amsterdam, so that she could receive medical care and a generally better quality of life. She remained in Amsterdam for the rest of her life.

Bel Powley as Miep Gies. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Miep, as portrayd by Bel Powley (“The Morning Show,” “The King of Staten Island,” “White Boy Rick“) seems carefree and lighthearted and not that interested in either working or settling down. Her adopted family actually has conversations about the possibility of her marrying her adopted brother, to alleviate the hardship for the family unit continuing to support Miep in war-time.

This detail about Miep’s potential marriage to someone she  regarded as her brother was true. It was researched by show creators Tony Phelan and Joan Rater, who are a married couple. The brother being gay, however, was poetic license, based on the gay community’s support for the Resistance in Amsterdam in WWII. The co-creators also shared that their diligent research for the series was all donated to the Anne Frank House/Museum after filming was completed.

Joan arrived late for the Q&A due to flight delays at SXSW. She explained that she and her husband were touring the Anne Frank home in Amsterdam when they became intrigued by the untold story of Miep Gies, the young woman who stepped up to help hide Otto Frank and his family when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. The sets were exact recreations of the space in which the Franks hid.

Ashley Brooks and Billie Boullet (Margot and Anne Frank) at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

It is clear that Miep is somewhat naïve about how bad things will become for Jewish residents of the Netherlands. (“Hitler won’t come here. We’re neutral.”) She is among those Dutch citizens who cannot believe that the Germans will invade their peaceful city and country. Others, who are more practical, are convinced that he will, in fact, invade.

May 10-15, 1940:  The Queen fled to London and the Netherlands fell to the Nazis in five days.

Miep is proven wrong in her optimistic belief that “all will be well.” She then becomes very active in helping Jews go into hiding, not only helping the Franks build a secret hideaway above Otto’s Opetka office, with a staircase hidden behind a fake bookcase, but also helped to hide other Jewish families in the city.

Miep also has a romance with a bookish young man named Jan, played by Joe Cole (“Peaky Blinders”). Jan tells Miep that he is actually already married to someone else, but just doesn’t have enough money to finalize the divorce. That was an odd beginning to their courtship.  Miep is shown ditching Jan at a club, as she found his bookish ways (he is reading Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”) boring, initially. Ultimately, the couple discover they have many shared interests and—despite his horrible period haircut—they become a couple. Jan is played by Joe Cole (“Against the Ice,” “The Ipcress File”).

Co-creator Tony Phelan. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

As the couple become more and more involved in the Dutch Resistance—Miep in their neighborhood and Jan banding together with like-minded co-workers (he is a social worker)—the couple work together to solve problems such as how to secure extra ration books in order to feed the nine people hiding in the upper area above Otto Frank’s Opetka jam business.

It falls to the efforts and good will and chutzpah of  Good Samaritans such as Miep and Jan to hide and provide for the persecuted Jews. Miep hid the Franks for over 2 years. The Franks went into hiding on July 5, 1942.

During that time, Miep was also helping hide other families. At one point, the Franks’ Jewish dentist, Dr. Pfeffer (Noah Taylor) must go into hiding with the Franks and their guests, the Van Pels family. A line in the script, when husband Jan suggests that Miep should have shared her decision with him before saying yes to Otto Frank (Liev Schreiber with his hair shaved back to mid-pate), Miep responds, “I didn’t think I needed to consult you before agreeing to save someone’s life.”

Director Susanna Fogel of “A Small Light” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

From the stage during the Q&A Joan Rater shared with the audience that she and her husband (co-creator Tony Phelan, who directed 3 episodes and scripted others) have a son about the age that Miep was when she was asked to help hide the Franks. It was being in Amsterdam and thinking about the way in which their own son might react that got them thinking about the largely untold story of Miep Gies.


Most of us are familiar with “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Only Otto survived being imprisoned. Edith (the mother) died at Auschwitz. Anne and Margot were transferred to Birkenau and died there of typhus.

As for Miep Gies, the focus of this film, she lived to be almost 101. When the Franks were arrested in August of 1944, possibly turned in by neighbors or by the cleaning person at Otto’s business, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl were not arrested. Miep managed to excuse herself by saying she knew nothing of those in hiding. Miep and two others would rescue Anne’s diary before the Nazis cleared out the hiding place. They would eventually return the papers to Otto Frank. Anne’s father would see that Anne’s diary was published (initially as “Diary of a Young Girl”).

“A Small Light,” an 8 part series, premieres Monday, May 1, at 9/8c on National Geographic with two back-to-back episodes. New episodes will debut every Monday at 9/8c and 10/9c on National Geographic and will stream the next day on Disney +. The timeliness of the script, plus the excellent performances and on-site location shoot, have this series marked for nominations during awards season.


Listen to part of my interview with the actresses Ashley Brooke, who played Margot Frank, and 17-year-old Billie Burke, who plays Anne Frank in the 8-part National Geographic series now airing. (Ashley is also appearing in “The White House Plumbers” as Alexandra Liddy, daughter of Justin Theroux’s character of E. Gordon Liddy.) Connie met with the two stars of “A Small Light” for a one-on-one interview just prior to the film’s premiere at SXSW.

Anti-Semitism on the Rise in the United States

I’m almost caught up from the recently concluded SXSW film festival.

I still have a review of a screened horror film (“Appendage”) and one that is embargoed until April 24th for a drama financed by National Geographic commencing May 1st that will focus on the brave young woman who helped hide Otto Frank and his family in war-torn Amsterdam. Most of us know the story of Anne Frank from her recovered diary and the many spin-off dramatizations that sprang from it. Most of us did not know about Miep Gies, however.

It  was Miep Gies, then a 24-year-old secretary to Otto Frank at his business (a jam factory called Opetka) who agreed to hide Otto Frank (Liev Schreiber) and his family of four (Otto, Edith, Anne and Margot) and five other Dutch Jews from the Nazis during WWII and the occupation of Holland. They lived in hiding for 2 years, until they were turned in.

Only Otto Frank survived the war after the Nazis captured the family, hiding in a hidden annex built above Mr. Frank’s business establishment, Opetka.  He and his family were sent to concentration camps, separated as a family, and only Otto survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.

Together with her colleague Bep Voskuijl, Miep retrieved Anne Frank’s diary after the family was arrested, and kept the papers safe,  returning the papers to Otto Frank when he came back to Amsterdam from Auschwitz in June of 1945.  Gies had stored Anne Frank’s papers in the hopes of returning them to the girl, but gave them to Otto Frank, instead, who compiled them into a diary first published in June of 1947,

Bel Powley, who portrays Miep Gies in “A Small Light.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

In collaboration with Alison Leslie Gold, Gies wrote the book Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family in 1987. Born in 1909, she died just one month shy of her 101st birthday in 2010, which was surprising, considering the fact that she was instrumental in saving many Dutch Jews from the Holocaust. [She denied any involvement in helping hide the Franks when their hiding place was discovered.]

Considering that anti-Semitism is at its highest point since the seventies, the choice to dramatize this story at this time in history is a timely one. The Anti-Defamation League began keeping records of anti-Semitic activity in 1979. In the past 5 years, the incidences of assaults or robberies or other crimes have increased 500%. On college campuses, the incidences have risen 4o% and in Kindergarten through 12th grade schools, the incidences of such wrongdoing are up 50%.

Specifically, incidents of violence against Orthodox Jews are up 67%. Incidents of vandalism are up 51%. General harassment is up 29% and assaults, in general, are up 26%. As the experts have said, “Extremists feel emboldened right now” and various other spokesmen called it a “battleground against bigotry.”

As one CNN expert said, “It may start with the Jews, but it doesn’t end with the Jews.” A super spreader of such hatred would be social media outlets. When social influencers (like Kanye West and Mel Gibson) express hatred for the Jewish people, there are surges in such evil acts. There is a reverberation effect within and among conspiracy groups; the actions condoned by the MAGA hordes are germane.

Signs of people in positions of authority condoning, explicitly or complicitly, man’s inhumanity to man contributes to the deep-seated problem and exposes a sickness in society. Kanye West today tried to dig himself out of the deep hole he had dug for himself with his anti-Semitic rants, saying that watching Jonah Hill in “21 Jump Street” had changed his opinion to one that is more positive. Not only is this a weak defense against his previous bigoted words and actions, but it hardly seems likely to stem the tide of actions like those that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia from August 11th to 12th in 2017.  That Unite the Right rally was a white supremacist rally that seems, now, to have been a watershed moment in giving radical groups permission to act in  uncivil and illegal manners. It is worth noting that it took place during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The focus on the heroic actions of the Miep Gies’ of the world comes at a time that should give the excellent production “A Small Light” a welcome platform. (Review to follow in April).

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