Engaging and fascinating version of Sher's adaptation of Levy's memoirs of Auschwitz
Filmed at Hamstead Theatre, this film is a version of Antony Sher's solo performance as Primo Levy. This name may mean loads to some people but to many, including myself before watching this film, it will mean nothing. Primo Levy was one of those to survive his time at Auschwitz, an achievement he initially puts down to his good fortune to having arrived at a time when specialists and working men were being utilised. He later captured his experience in his memoir "If This is a Man", which Sher then adapted for the stage.
There is another version of this, also (I think) called Primo and it was shown on Sky Arts around the same time as BBC4 first showed their version. The difference between the two was that Sky's was a performance filmed, whereas BBC4's was adapted specifically for television the material being the same but the performance and direction is all about the viewer rather than an audience. This is why, of the two, I decided to watch the BBC4 version and, although I have not seen the filmed performance, I think this is the best call. I'm not sure if I will read Levy's book at any point but here Sher's adaptation brings the man to life with a script that manages to be a memoir while also being raw and emotional enough to work as being delivered as if it is happening right now.
It is hard to describe but the performance manages to pull this off as Sher is seen in "normal" dress with the appearance of an older man looking back. At the same time though, he is acting out what he remembers. It is not as easy as it sounds but nor is it in any way corny or forced; indeed so convincing is Sher that I think I would struggle to think of any other way for the material to be delivered. Wilson's direction is restrained (as is the score indeed) and it frames the shots really well to make best use of the sets and also draw the viewer in or to put it another way, this is not just filmed theatre.
Overall then this is a fascinating little film that is worth seeing in place of the theatre experience. The material is of course engaging but it is the conversion into a very effective script combined with the strong performance from Sher than makes it work so well. Engaging, touching and honest and well worth seeing for those qualities.
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