Compelling coming-of-age film set in Nazi-occupied Holland

Martijn Lakemeier as Michiel and Raymond Thiry star in ‘Winter in Wartime.’


“Winter in Wartime” is a moving, suspenseful and well-crafted coming-of-age drama set in a snowy 1945 Nazi-occupied Holland. Beautifully photographed and based on Dutch author Jan Terlouw’s “award-winning” semi-autobiographical novel “Oorlogswinter,” this thrilling drama has been an international hit.

Thirteen-year-old Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) chafes under the German occupation of his tiny rural village and dreams of helping the underground. He sees the war, and the people around him, in black and white. When a British plane crashes in the nearby woods, Michiel and his best friend Theo (Jesse van Driel) go to explore. They are surprised by the arrival of German soldiers who capture Michiel, although his friend escapes. But they release him with only a scolding, since he is the son of the village’s mayor Johan (Raymond Thiry).

Michiel harbors some disdain of his father, whom he sees as too cooperative with the occupying Nazis, while he adores his Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen), who is hiding out with them. Ben has ties to the underground but Ben warns his nephew not to become involved.

A secret let slip by Theo’s older brother Dirk (Mees Peijnenburg) leads to Michiel helping Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower), an injured British flyer who survived the crash and is hiding in the woods. At first, Michiel plunges into this as an adventure with boyish bravura, but soon finds himself in a position of not knowing whom to trust. Unfolding events gradually draw in his older sister Erika (Melody Klaver), village blacksmith and member of the Underground Bertus (Tygo Gernandt) and watchful neighbor Schafter (Ad van Kempen).


The father-son relationship is a key part of this story, as Michiel’s actions reveal secrets and shades of gray all around him. Few people are quite who they seem and Michiel comes to see many of them in more nuanced ways.

There seems to be a constant stream of people moving through the village. Relatives he has never heard of turn up at breakfast and are gone by night. When the Nazi soldiers guarding the ferry boat at the river crossing take their regular afternoon break, people with bundles suddenly appear out of the bushes to board the ferry and hurriedly cross the river.

While the German soldiers keep watch on the steady stream of travelers and townspeople on the wintery roads, they take little note of the mayor’s son who they are accustomed to seeing riding back and forth on his bike or his horse.

“Winter in Wartime,” has been an audience favorite, garnering several awards and appearing in several film festivals worldwide, including the Tucson Jewish Film Festival. Directed and co-written by Martin Koolhoven, and filmed in the Netherlands and Lithuania, it is a beautiful viewing experience. The perpetually snowy landscape is both stunning and brooding, thanks to cinematographer Guido van Gennep. Careful period details from production designer Floris Vos give the film a polished look and sense of realism.

The acting is superb, not just by its young star Martijn Lakemeier but also Raymond Thiry as his father. Supporting actors are good as well, particularly Yorick van Wageningen as the uncle.

“Winter in Wartime” is a gripping, gorgeous film that explores the complexities of war, childhood innocence, good and evil, moral responsibility and the consequences of choices. Although the story is told from the teen’s point of view, parts of the film are too intense for younger viewers.

‘Winter in Wartime’

Rated: R

Running time: 1:43

Opens: Friday, April 29, at Plaza Frontenac Cinema. In Dutch, English and German with English subtitles