Fiona leckerman reviews the newly-released film Suite Francaise, a Second World War romance about ‘forbidden love’

With such a fascinating backstory it was hard not to have high expectations of Suite Francaise, the film adaption of Irene Nemirovsky’s bestselling novel of the same name.

The story charts the German occupation of a small French village, fictionally titled Bussy, at the start of World War Two and sees the French farmers and villagers coping with their new inhabitants.

Lucille Angellier, played with a perfect stillness by Michelle Williams and her mother in law Madame Angellier, a formidable performance by Kristin Scott Thomas, who proves there’s nothing like a dame to add gravity to a character. Both women’s subtlety is of real value to the narrative, which sees them house German Lieutenant, Bruno von Folk.

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Kristin Scott Thomas as the formidable Madame Angellier.

William’s Lucille, despite her better judgement, begins to falls in love with Bruno, both finding common ground in their mutual love of music. Bruno, a composer before he enlisted in the army plays piano throughout the lonely evenings and as his tinkering fills the empty house we gradually see Lucille become mesmerised by this forbidden man; his kindness, so uncharacteristic of Nazi’s is unsettling, should Lucille trust him?

The narrative is slow, with drawn out shots of William’s large eyes longingly staring through ajar doors, there are brief skirmishes with a shot Nazi and thankfully towards the end the plot twists to include a manhunt, escape and the revelation of a Jew in the village.

We see Lucille transform from a meek woman to one of bravery and strength, just as Madame Angellier transitions from a cold, uncaring woman to one of depth and kindness.

Suite Francaise reimagines, with lovely costume detailing and spot on location choices, what may have happened in many small European villages throughout the war, working well to convey a climate of fear.

Under the titles at the end of the film Nemirovsky’s handwritten manuscript is seen adding great poignancy to this story, which had been lying dormant, untold for 50 years in the suitcase she had intrusted to her daughter as she was taken off to her death in Auschwitz.

There is a sadness that runs throughout as characterised by the haunting score and although there are elements of Nemirovsky’s life reflected (in the film), they do not overshadow the narrative, which feels by the end, like it has only just begun.