At first we’re never quite sure what role Bruno’s father plays in the war, but we – and his increasingly suspicious wife (Vera Farmiga) – soon come to the conclusion that he has something to do with the distant concentration camp visible from the family’s back window. When Bruno spots a group of men toiling away in striped clothing, he’s sufficiently inquisitive to sneak over the garden gate for a peek.
It’s there, behind the camp’s electric fence, that Bruno first claps eyes on Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a shaven-headed prisoner of the same age. As a conversation develops between the children, they strike up a friendship – one that leads to a shockingly fateful decision. The frightfully English accents are way out of kilter for a film set in Europe, but you learn to live with it. Thewlis, too, seems ill-cast at first but, as the film takes on a more sombre, foreboding tone, he begins to relish the part. Ultimately, though, it’s the kids’ movie; both Butterfield and Scanlon deliver strong, poignant performances. Just prepare to leave the screening feeling somewhat depressed.