An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Black Book (2007)

Carice van Houten stars in Black Book a engagingly complex tale of underground resistance in Holland

Carice van Houten stars in Black Book a engagingly complex tale of underground resistance in Holland during the Second World War. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

We live in a visual age. Films and TV series bombard us from all sides but with so many high profile blockbusters clammering for our attention, it’s easy for some of the smaller, more thoughtful films to slip past, unnoticed. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a new series of idiosynctaic suggestions for movies, both old and new, that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.

Carice van Houten stars in Black Book a engagingly complex tale of underground resistance in Holland

Carice van Houten stars in Black Book a engagingly complex tale of underground resistance in Holland during the Second World War. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Black Book, Dir: Paul Verhoeven; Starring: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman; Cert 15. Dutch with sub-titles.

War movies used to be ten-a-penny: The Guns of Navarone, 633 Squadron, Where Eagles Dare, Tobruk, The Desert Rats, Sink The Bismarck – they were usually plucky tales of derring do where the cream of the British and American acting communities stiffened their lips or chewed on large cigars in order to beat the Nazis and win World War II.

But, as Dutch director and Hollywood bad boy (Basic Instinct) Paul Verhoeven proves in this emotionally gripping and visually powerful film, based on a true story, history isn’t always a straight forward tale of good guys versus bad guys.

Sometimes the good guys can make morally suspect decisions, can callously sacrifice innocent people to achieve a dubious minor victory while the bad guys, in this case an SS officer, can reveal himself to be a sympathetic and almost honourable human being.


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This is one of Paul Verhoeven’s most rewarding films (his latest Elle was in the running for an Oscar this year) and one of the best films ever made about life in the resistance during the Second World War. It seems that history is not black and white.

Released in 2007, this remains the most expensive Dutch movie ever made and stars Carice van Houten, now best known for playing Melisandre the Red Witch in Game of Thrones, but unknown at the time.

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She plays a young Jewish singer Rachel Stein who changes her name to Ellis de Vries and joins the Dutch resistance after her family is killed in an air raid. She agrees to go undercover and infiltrate the local SS garrison but discovers that perhaps life is more complicated than she had expected.

And what makes this film stand out are, not only the brilliant performances, the top notch photography and detail-perfect production design, but the fact that the story doesn’t end on VE Day. It explores what happens after the war, about the back-stabbing, the recriminations that turned friends and former colleagues against one another.

It works as a powerful and absorbing war film, historically accurate but also as a cracking thriller which keeps you guessing throughout. It may be a film that you may have missed but catch it now. You won’t be sorry.

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