Sophie Scholl is the dramatisation of a true story set in the latter days of World War II Germany. Sophie, her brother, and a few friends, distribute pamphlets criticising Hitler’s government and pleading for the war’s inevitable end to be brought about sooner rather than later, if nothing else for the sake of soldiers’ lives. Unfortunately, in Hitler’s Germany publicising such political beliefs was punishable by death.
Sophie Scholl is typical of a sort of film that Hollywood just can’t do but Europe excells in — slow-paced, intense, the drama of human beings rather than epic spectacle. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was based on a stage play, as it is mostly static and takes place in a small number of locations, the primary one being the room in which the initial interviews occur between Sophie (Julia Jentsch) and the police officer trying to determine her guilt. That officer is played by a wonderfully Donald Pleasance-looking Gerald Alexander Held, who manages to make the role sympathetic, as he obviously wants to find Sophie innocent, and is a stark contrast to the prosecutor in the later court scene, who dresses in bright, Spanish Inquisition red and screams like a Hitlerian madman.
The film is about the heroism of conscience, of having the bravery to express your beliefs no matter what the consequences. “What can we rely on if not the law?” says the investigating officer. “On your conscience,” Sophie says. The officer replies: “What would happen if everyone separately decided what is right and wrong?” And thus sums up the nightmare of dictators everywhere.
Germany, as a nation, is still labouring under the guilt of having been the birthplace of the greatest evil of the 20th Century. It’s amazing to think that the recent film Downfall was the first German film to represent Hitler (I think I’ve got that right). If so, Sophie Scholl is a timely reminder that many people within that country were horrified by what happened, and tried to prevent it or speak against it despite dangers not faced by those deploring Hitler’s regime from the outside.