Author Anthony Doerr took 10 years to write his 2014 book “All the Light We Cannot See,” pouring himself into the annals of World War II history. The hard work paid off: The master work of fiction won a Pulitzer Prize and a Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and spent more than 200 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Now it’s coming to the screen in a beautifully made adaptation that appears to do justice to Doerr’s work.
The upcoming Netflix series stars Mark Ruffalo (“The Avengers”) as an employee at France’s Museum of Natural History and Aria Mia Loberti (who is visually impaired in real life) as his blind daughter, Marie-Laure. Louis Hofmann (“Red Sparrow”), Hugh Laurie (“House”) and Lars Eidinger (“White Noise”) co-star in the series.
Marie-Laure is a blind girl living in Paris when the Nazis capture France in 1940. Over the course of the four-episode series, Marie-Laure and her father, Daniel (Ruffalo), have to flee Paris for the Saint-Malo home of a reclusive uncle and veteran of World War I, Etienne (Laurie). They take with them a legendary diamond from the museum to keep it from falling into the hands of the Nazis. Once in the seaside town, they learn Etienne has been making radio broadcasts for the French Resistance -- and Marie-Laure starts making them, too.
“Ladies and gentlemen, before I begin my broadcast today, I have something to say,” Marie-Laure says in the trailer. “In this time of darkness, of fading cities, I’m trying to remember: Light lasts forever; darkness lasts not even for one second when you turn on the light.”
It’s also in Saint-Malo where she meets a young German soldier named Werner (Hofmann), who is tasked by the Third Reich to hunt down those making the illegal radio broadcasts. Despite his mission to find and kill her personally, the two make an instant human connection, their own flicker of hope during one of Europe’s darkest times.
“I know that broadcasting can get me executed, but I will not be silenced,” Marie-Laure says in the trailer, just before the world explodes around her.
One of the central events in the book is the 1944 Battle of Saint-Malo, part of the Allied breakout of Normandy during Operation Overlord. Saint-Malo was a key naval port, as was the rest of Brittany during the German occupation. The Germans believed Brittany was one of the potential landing areas for the Allied invasion of Europe and was heavily reinforced as part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. The increase in German troops meant an increase in French Resistance fighters, leading Brittany to be one of the most contested areas of occupation from 1943 onward.
When the Allies finally came in 1944, Saint-Malo was bombed twice, first in July and then in August, inflicting civilian casualties both times. It took the Allies nearly a month to dislodge the town’s 12,000 German defenders. The town itself suffered incredible damage. Fewer than 200 of Saint-Malo’s old town buildings were left standing, and so much of the city was reduced to rubble, the French almost opted not to rebuild it.
While the Battle of Saint-Malo was very real, the story and characters of “All the Light We Cannot See” are a work of fiction, but a brilliant work of fiction with a powerful message. The four-episode limited series begins streaming on Netflix on Nov. 2, 2023.
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