Michelle Williams enters into a dangerous liaison in Saul Dibb's wartime drama
Briefly touched on in the end credits, the story behind Suite Française is fascinating. It's based on the novellas by Irène Némirovsky whose work was discovered in a notebook by one of her daughters some 50 years after her death in Auschwitz, becoming a publishing phenomenon. Quite whether it lives up to the background intrigue is debatable, but British director Saul Dibb (The Duchess) makes a fair stab at bringing Némirovsky's writing to the big screen.
Set in a village in 1940s occupied France, Michelle Williams plays Lucile Angellier. With her husband now a prisoner-of-war, she lives with her domineering mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas) as they anxiously await news. Instead, they get a young Nazi officer, Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts), who's sent to live with them when the Germans roll into town. Soon enough, feelings stir between Bruno and Lucile, who is not quite as happily married as we first think.
Adapted by Dibb and Matt Charman, Suite Française isn’t just a wartime romance. The film deals with the pressures of occupation via its supporting cast. Making the biggest impact is British actor Sam Riley, playing farmer Benoit who's eager to join the Resistance, a decision that impacts greatly on Lucile. Also credible are Lambert Wilson and Harriet Walter, as the gentry that trade with the Germans for favourable treatment.
The fine cast additionally includes Ruth Wilson and Margot Robbie, while Williams is as honest and affecting as ever in the lead, even if her chemistry with Schoenaerts doesn’t always crackle. The wayward pacing is another problem, though Dibb still pulls off some choice moments – from an early standout scene as the Germans attack the villagers in an air-raid, to the wrenching finale. Be sure to pack a hanky.
General release from Fri 13 Mar.