“How about a last drink before we die? It’s Brandy. Older than both of us. Older than we will ever be”
The 2023 Netflix mini-series “All the Light We Cannot See” starts with a young blind girl broadcasting on a radio in a Nazi-occupied French town while Americans bomb it, hoping her messages might reach her missing father. It’s 1944, near the end of World War II, and the scene quickly transitions to a young German soldier offering his comrade a drink, the brandy with a longer lifespan than their doomed lives. The intertwining fates of a French girl and a German soldier, driven by their fascination with radio and stories, form the crux of this 4-episode-long drama.
Created by Steven Knight and Shawn Levy, ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ is based on Anthony Doerr’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning historical fiction novel of the same name. Debut actor Aria Mia Loberti plays protagonist Marie, a blind French teenager, who illegally broadcasts on the radio every day on the same channel in hopes of reaching out to her missing father Daniel LeBlanc (Mark Ruffalo). Meanwhile, Louis Hoffman plays the German protagonist Werner, also a teenager, who is forced to join the Nazi army due to his prodigious skills with handling radios. Every night, Werner tunes in to listen to Marie’s illegal broadcasts, finding comfort in her voice and thoughts. However, the twist in the tale occurs when his Nazi superiors order him to track down and kill the same girl.
Each episode is a little over one-hour long and the cinematography conjures up a grim, desolate imagery of world war II, with bombed buildings and rubble dotting the seaside town of Saint Malo. While this story is completely fictional, with slight elements of fantasy too, the real town of Saint Malo was almost wiped out by American bombings during the war. ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ is supposed to be a hopeful anti-war tale, seen through the eyes of its teen protagonists, Marie and Werner, both of whom just want the gory nightmare of blood, bombs, and deaths to end. Interspersed with flashbacks to explain the lives of the characters before they were thrust into the chaos of war, the “All the Light We Cannot See Series Review” is tightly paced. Perhaps it didn’t need any additional episodes, but only those who have read the original novel would be better equipped to judge the nuances of the plot.
The most poignant part of this series for me was where viewers get flashbacks of Marie as a little girl, whose father Daniel, a museum curator, builds her a diorama of Paris to learn how to navigate the town on her own. The father-daughter relationship is absolutely precious, and child actor Nell Sutton, who is blind in real life, charmingly portrays the curious little Marie, who loves listening to the radio and questioning everything around her. Even as Marie becomes a teenager, her relationship with her father remains one of trust, respect, and love. When the Nazis take over Paris, the duo embarks on a dangerous adventure to walk over 400 kilometers to get to Saint-Malo.
Hugh Laurie plays Marie’s eccentric uncle Etienne, who is a World War I hero with severe PTSD, so he is always cloistered in a room with a radio. Lars Eidinger plays an evil Nazi Sergeant called Reinhold, who wants to find and kill Marie, but he has his own personal agenda for it. Newcomer Aria Mia Loberti delivers a convincing enough performance as the blind Marie, but she isn’t able to rouse the viewers to an emotional catharsis with her part. Louis Hoffman is far more riveting as the sensitive Werner, who grew up in an orphanage and was brutally trained in a Nazi camp to join the radio squad.
The creators manage to maintain a sense of suspense until the end regarding whether the two strangers, belonging to warring sides, will find the light at the end of the tunnel. However, the climax felt contrived and underwhelming, yet it doesn’t diminish the overall storytelling prowess of this series. I really wish they had filmed the series in German and French because it was quite weird to see German soldiers speaking English with each other, and the same goes for Marie’s French family as well. As long as you keep in mind that this is a work of fiction, “All the Light We Cannot See Series Review” is a really good choice for a weekend watch.
Rating: 8 on 10. Stream the series on Netflix.
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