This Behind-the-Scenes Look at Disney’s New Anne Frank TV Show Is Incredible
A new National Geographic limited series, “A Small Light,” is coming out this year, and it will explore the story of Anne Frank through the eyes of Miep Gies, Otto Frank’s secretary.
Gies, who died in 2010, was in her early 20s when she started working for Frank. Along with her husband and some of Frank’s other employees, she helped hide the Jewish Frank family, van Pels family and Dr. Fritz Pfeffer in the Secret Annex above his office between the summer of 1942 and 1944. She was the one who kept Anne Frank’s diary safe after the families were captured by the Nazis.
We already got the first glimpse of the show earlier this month, which showed the families celebrating Hanukkah in hiding. But this weekend, National Geographic released a mesmerizing behind-the-scenes look of this star-studded show—in which Bel Powleyplays Gies and Liev Schreiber plays Otto Frank.
In the video, you can hear the show’s creators—the director of the show’s first three episodes, Susanna Fogel, and the show’s executive producers and creators Joan Rater and Tony Phelan, as well as the show’s stars, talk about the challenges of retelling this iconic, often-told story, and why it still feels so pertinent in 2023.
“It just felt like the right story at the right time,” Schreiber, who spent Passover in Ukraine helping feed refugees, says in the video, adding that it’s “a story that speaks so profoundly about compassion.”
The video includes the scene in which Otto asks Gies to help hide him and his family. “You need to take your time to think it through,” Liev as Otto tells her.
“No I don’t,” Miep replies emphatically, asking straight away what it is she needs to do.
We see Miep’s life—full of music and dance, young love and youthful adventures—juxtaposed with this life-endangering, huge undertaking. As Powley says, the show balances this big historical moment with the personal. “Miep’s marriage problems weren’t going to wait until the war was over; experiencing growing from a girl to woman wasn’t going to wait until the war was over,” she explains.
The glimpses of the show feel so fresh and human—and full of cheeky humor, thanks to Powley’s Miep and Billie Boulet’s wonderfully sassy Anne.
We also get to see the terrors of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam—the drama and fear, violence and suspense, soldiers filling the streets, Nazi banners hung on buildings, signs of “Jews forbidden” and wire fences.
The show was shot in Paris, Prague and Amsterdam in the summer of 2022. Shooting around the Frank apartment helped the cast and team behind the show think about—and honor—the people whose stories they were trying to tell.
“Anne’s story is still relevant today because racism and antisemitism is still happening in this world. Different formats but it’s still happening,” Boullet says in the video.
According to Fogel, the show’s mission is to make people look at the world differently. As Phelan explains, “Miep’s message was always: I am not special, you can do this as well, everybody has this in them to do something like this, to make a difference in someone’s life.”
“This is not the Anne Frank story you were taught in elementary school,” Schreiber said at an event last week. “For me, it gives you a broader perspective on what it is to be Jewish.”
There’s no release date yet for the eight episodes of “A Small Light,” but the limited series will find its way to Disney+ sometime this spring.
In the meantime, if you want more of Miep’s story, you can read her memoir “Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family,“ or, if you want to introduce her to your children ahead of the show, try “Behind the Bookcase: Miep Gies, Anne Frank, and the Hiding Place.”
LIOR ZALTZMAN IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO KVELLER AND JLIFE MAGAZINE.