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Actors Bel Powley, Joe Cole learned plenty about others who helped Anne Frank during WWII

Actors Bel Powley, Joe Cole learned plenty about others who helped Anne Frank during WWII

LOS ANGELES – Anne Frank’s story is one many think they know. “But when you get into the nitty gritty of it, most people don’t know it all,” says actress Bel Powley.

In the limited series, “A Small Light,” audiences learn how many helped Anne’s family hide from the Nazis and, ultimately, rescue and publish her diary – an account of life during the Holocaust.

Powley’s character, Miep Gies, was an assistant to Otto Frank, Anne’s father. She willingly agreed to help him and his family hide in an annex and keep his company running.

“She was a frivolous, fiercely independent young woman,” Powley says. “And then she found herself in extreme circumstances.”

With her husband, Jan (played by Joe Cole), she found herself making bold decisions, ones that protected the Franks and their friends for two years.

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“Their lives were turned upside down when they made this really heroic decision to help hide these eight people,” Powley says. “Hopefully, it will make lots of viewers think, ‘Would I be able to do this?’”

It’s a question both actors asked themselves during filming.

“What they did was so extraordinary and so incredible,” Cole says. “Hopefully, I never will be put in that position. I’d like to think I could do a little something for somebody. What (Miep and Jan) did was a little something that turned out to be a huge, huge thing. They represent a huge number of people who were also doing that all over Europe.”

The title comes from something Miep said: “Anyone can turn on a small light in a dark room.”

The Gieses downplayed their role in the Anne Frank story. “Jan never spoke about it after the war,” Cole says. “There’s actually very little anecdotal evidence of him talking about the experience.”

Miep, however, wrote a book, “Anne Frank Remembered,” and did interviews. “Her book was my main source of research,” Powley says. “You get the sense she was quite cheeky and playful. She talks about how much she loved going out dancing and partying with her friends and how she found her husband so attractive.”

Jan had been married and had to divorce in order to continue his relationship with Miep. “It was a social faux pas in those days,” Cole says.

To show how they maintained their relationship – in spite of the pressures of war – “A Small Light” includes moments in which they’re talking in the bathroom, in the bedroom, anywhere they can get a moment of privacy.

Jan is told he can’t talk to anyone – not even his wife – about his participation in the resistance.

That raises a question: Who can you trust?

Cole says you often have to find your “person” – someone who shares your outlook.

“I’m a very trusting person,” Powley admits. “I can actually be quite gullible sometimes.”

“It takes me a minute to warm to people,” Cole says. “I just need to get to know you a little bit before I’m you’re best mate.”

For both actors, “A Small Light” tested those boundaries and, says Powley, proved to be “one of the best working experiences I’ve ever had. It will stay with me.

“I knew about Anne Frank’s story – I’m Jewish myself – but I actually didn’t know anything about Miep or Jan or any of the other people who helped hide the Franks. There are a lot of unlikely everyday heroes who are coming out of the woodwork since Miep. I feel honored to have been able to play her and tell the story.”

“The people in the annex and Miep and Jan and the workers who were helping hide them were hopeful to the end,” says Joan Rater, the series’ executive producer and writer. “They didn’t know the end of the story. Every time I read Anne Frank’s diary, I hoped that this time they’d be saved. As a writer, I didn’t play the ending. I played the hope – the hope these people were living with.”

Liev Schreiber, who plays Otto Frank, says “A Small Light” is not the Anne Frank story you were taught in elementary school. “They’ve found nuance in this. It’s a very powerful argument against anti-Semitism because (Miep’s) commitment was one of friendship and loyalty and kindness and compassion. She wasn’t a Jew.

“This is about a normal person who goes, ‘Yes,’ when the question is asked, ‘Can you help me?’”

“A Small Light” airs on National Geographic beginning May 1. It will also stream on Hulu and Disney+.

Copyright 2020 The Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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