Acclaimed Polish film-maker Agnieszka Holland’s harsh, uncompromising drama may have the same theme as Schindler’s List — a true-life story of a gentile who saved Jews
— but it is both more compelling and less sentiment-al than Spielberg’s blockbuster.
Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) is a sewer inspector in Nazi-occupied Lvov, who augments his income with petty crime and does not shy away from exploiting the already persecuted Jews for a little extra cash. The opportunity comes his way to line his pockets by hiding a Jewish family in the sewers in return for their life savings, but ultimately he risks his life to save them — even when the money runs out.
His conversion is portrayed as both reluctant and troubled – his ingrained antisemitism is challenged along the way.
For his efforts, the real-life Socha was posthumously declared Righteous Among Gentiles by the Israeli government. Whether his screen personality, brilliantly conveyed by Wieckiewicz, is accurate or not, it is certainly convincing.
The brutality of the Nazis on pavement-level is graphically portrayed but is equalled by the suffering of the Chiger family in the sewers, forced into a hellish subterranean existence among the rats in a stinking and potentially lethal environment.
This is a long film which, at times, can be almost unbearable to watch, and its subject matter is by no means original.
Yet the story, based on Robert Marshall’s book, In the Sewers of Lvov, is also a redemptive tale of suffering and survival which has much of the excitement of a thriller.
In Darkness should be compulsory viewing for certain Polish and Ukrainian and indeed other football supporters.