Alone in Berlin

by Toby Woollaston


It never ceases to amaze me the seemingly boundless supply of obscure stories from our past that bubble to the surface.  Unfortunately, many are true tales that tell of tragic circumstances, but through their telling they act as a warning beacon for humanity.  Alone in Berlin is one of those beacons.

Set during the Second World War, Alone in Berlin recounts the true story of German couple Anna and Otto Quangel (Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson).  After hearing the news that their only son has lost his life on Hitler’s battlefield, the couple’s despair drives them to resist the Nazi regime from within.  In a form of passive propaganda they begin to write anti-Nazi slogans on cards and randomly place them throughout Berlin city — a method similar to Arthur Stace’s “Eternity” chalkings, although with stakes a lot higher. It’s not long before their form of resistance is seen as a threat and a game of cat and mouse ensues. Criminal detective Escherich (Daniel Brühl) is deployed to track them down as the film becomes a procedural that effortlessly mixes the styles of serial crime thriller and war-time period drama.

My first concern was to put any dubious German accents to bed in order to set my suspension of disbelief at ease. Would Thompson’s clipped English accent prevail? Gleeson’s Irish brogue bubble to the surface? Or, heaven forbid, Brühl’s learned American english twang get the better of the German native?  Well, I can gladly report in this instance … all quiet on the western front. In fact, I find it odd to report that the film’s production values are remarkable for their invisibility. Really, this is a good thing for a film where Anna and Otto’s story should not be derailed by clever filmic hullabaloo.

Not without its faults, Alone in Berlin is perhaps a little trite in parts; but to its credit it gets on with telling the story in an efficient manner with very little else to bounce me out of its narrative arc. This is a credit to the tight script by Achim von Borries and fledgling director Vincent Perez (who tends to err on the melodramatic side). Daniel Brühl superbly negotiates a delicate balance between sympathy and duty, and Thompson and Gleeson produce warm and believable performances, allowing me to be carried along with their plight — the necessity of free speech to keep the wolves at bay.

Rating: 4 sneakily written notes out of 5.

You can see the published review here.