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Film review: The Hiding Place (2023)

10 August 2023

Stephen Brown views the new film version of a play based on the famous book by Corrie Ten Boom

Anthony Matula

Nan Gurley, John Schuck, and Carrie Tillis star in The Hiding Place

Nan Gurley, John Schuck, and Carrie Tillis star in The Hiding Place

THE film The Hiding Place (Cert. 12A) is an account of Corrie Ten Boom’s family after the Nazis invaded Holland. Based on her memoir, this new remake, unlike the 1975 film, was shot on stage in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s a Rabbit Room Theatre production. According to Andrew Peterson, the founder, it “exists to cultivate and curate story, music, and art to nourish Christ-centred communities for the life of the world”. Judging from this particular piece, it does it exceedingly well.

At great personal risk, the Ten Booms were watchmakers who used their premises to conceal Jewish refugees (more than 800 of them) from the Germans. Thanks to Laura Matula’s fluid direction, a live performance has been transformed into a cinematic experience. It is a bravura exposition of the way in which Casper (Conrad John Schuck) and his Calvinist household perceived their Christian duty. As Betsie (Carrie Tillis), one of the daughters, puts it, “Christ stayed in the garden when he knew they would come. I will stay in my home and hope they do not.”

Learning by fair means and foul, they thwart their oppressors for several years before being arrested and dispatched to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Corrie (Nan Arnold Gurley) and Betsie manage to find a hiding place for their tiny volume of biblical passages which sustains their female comrades. Corrie’s subsequent memoir took its title from Psalm 32: “You are my hiding place. You shall preserve me from trouble, You surround me with songs of deliverance.”

While that consoles her fellow prisoners, Corrie’s own faith wavers as she witnesses and experiences sickeningly cruel treatment by the guards. It is hard to believe that the atrocities, indicated by theatrical artifice, would be better conveyed more “realistically”, as in a film. “What kind of God would allow that? I hate him,” she cries.

Corrie recalls their father entrusting her with the ticket needed for a journey. The suffering that she sees in the camp makes her, like Ivan Karamazov in Dostoevsky’s novel, want to hand it back to God. The price is too high. There are, however, moments of grace. The women become true companions, literally breaking bread together. A pastor sends the Blessed Sacrament disguised as crackers in a Red Cross package.

The film subtly but unmistakably makes play with the family’s business: that of watchmaking. We constantly see and hear clocks ticking. All things must pass. There is nothing hidden that will not in due course be revealed. Time, by keeping faithful watch, becomes a means of healing. It allows Corrie to explore not just the hatred meted out by the Nazis, but also that darkness within herself. How can it be quenched, she asks.

Gurley’s sensitive portrayal is heartbreakingly palpable. Even so, the narrative doesn’t give enough time to do justice to Corrie’s spiritual reawakening. We just have to take her word, without knowing how, she has seen — hidden away — what is beyond all the agony. With all the divisions in our present world, this remains a story for our own time. As Corrie Ten Boom said, “In darkness, God’s truth shines most clear.”

In UK cinemas on 16 August.

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