The Book Thief: Bringing Markus Zusak’s novel to life

Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Sophie Nélisse star in an ambitious World War II drama. Tom Brook talks to the cast and crew.

A young girl buries her dead brother in the snow and is then almost immediately separated from her mother – possibly forever. These traumatic events open Markus Zusak’s acclaimed 2005 novel The Book Thief, now a major motion picture that opens on 8 November in the US.

Sophie Nélisse stars as the title character Liesel Meminger, who must live with foster parents played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson after being forced to leave her mother. The year is 1939 and the setting is Nazi Germany, an uncommon setting for novels aimed at children.

But Zusak’s tale – brought to the big screen by Brian Percival, best known for directing several episodes of Downton Abbey – is no ordinary children’s story. It shows civilian life on several levels of German society throughout WWII – from fanatical Nazis to people like Liesel’s foster parents, who hide a Jewish refugee in their cellar.

Tom Brook talks to the cast and crew behind The Book Thief and examines the power and appeal of this singular tale.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.