The Boy in the Woods review – boys’ own tale of Holocaust fugitive forced to fend for himself

<span>String-section-forward … Jett Klyne in The Boy in the Woods.</span><span>Photograph: PR</span>
String-section-forward … Jett Klyne in The Boy in the Woods.Photograph: PR

This sweet if somewhat sentiment-and-string-section-forward Canadian film tells the true story of Max (Jett Klyne, impressive), a Jewish boy aged 12 from Warsaw, trying to evade capture during the second world war. Max’s mother (Berkley Silverman), aware that there’s only a little time left and she and her baby daughter won’t make it, manages to bundle Max off to go stay with a Polish family deep in the forest who will be paid for their troubles. Jasko (Richard Armitage) and Kasia (Masa Lizdek) are basically good souls, but when the authorities start coming round looking for hiding Jews and Max only just manages to convince them he’s Kasia’s little brother, the Polish couple feel they can’t risk endangering their own and their child’s lives for Max. So they send him out to fend for himself in the forest. At least Jasko shows Max before he goes how to snare rabbits and gives him some top foraging advice about only eating mushrooms that grow on trees, not the ground. Also, avoid the yellow ones.

The rest of the film becomes a sort of boys’ own adventure story but with the pitch-black cloud of the Holocaust hanging over it. Max encounters soldiers trying to kill him and others, namely a gaggle of Russians running away from the front, who warn him the fighting is headed his way, towards the forest. When he meets up with another, younger Jewish boy, Yanek (David Kohlsmith), like himself an orphan, Max almost feels like he has a family again with someone else to look out for.

The film is rated 12, but if parents want to show it to kids younger than that at home, they may wish to follow the example of Phoebe’s parents in Friends who simply turned off famous tearjerker Old Yeller before it got to the end, lest she learn the tragic fate of the film’s eponymous dog. Nevertheless, a coda at the end featuring the real Max as an old man offers some hope, even if there’s something a little discomforting about that aforementioned final scene.

• The Boy in the Woods is on UK digital platforms from 27 May.