"is an often deeply poignant portrait of people doing their best to survive war"

It’s France, and the year is 1940. Yes, Saul Dibb’s Suite Francaise -- based on Irène Némirovsky's 2004 novel of the same name -- is yet another film about World War Two. But before your eyes roll, be prepared for a movie that subtly upturns conventional clichés about Nazis occupation, and brings a believable humanity to the relationships between the occupier and the occupied.

We are introduced to pretty, victory-rolled French villager Lucile Angellier in the first days of occupation, in the suffocating clutches of her haughty mother-in-law (the superb Kristen Scott Thomas) as they anxiously await news of her husband, a prisoner of war. Their sleepy, picturesque town of Bussy is soon overtaken by refuges from Paris, quickly followed by a regiment of German soldiers who are sent to stay in various villagers’ houses.

Enter Bruno von Falk: the well-mannered, handsome, piano-playing German officer who has been billeted to their fine mansion for the duration. As much as her stern mother-in-law warns her away (“Do not even LOOK at him when he talks to you!”), Lucile finds herself instinctively falling for this sensitive, conflicted German and they soon fall into a dangerous love affair which could ultimately get them both killed.

It’s a true story (Irène Némirovsky died over 50 years ago in a concentration camp; her daughter finally plucking up the courage to read her journals and uncover this story) and one which drives home the tragedy of war, but also the moments of shared experience that can bring people in the most horrific circumstances together.

Some of the Nazi officers take advantage of their power, such as the vicious young man sent to live at a simple farm dwelling with farmer Benoit (played by a cruelly underused Sam Reilly) and who teases him by suggesting he go to bed with his wife. But others, such as Bruno, are quite obviously in a position they would do anything to get out of and grab onto moments of normality, such as a scene in which music can be heard drifting over a lake where young Germans frolic.

Like Némirovsky’s unfinished masterpiece, Suite Francaise seeks to bring humanity and pity to individual Germans, and the tragedy that ensues when news breaks that Germany has invaded the Soviet Union is palpable. Peace will be no more – there will be no more bargaining.

Kristen Scott Thomas as a harsh matriarch with the soft side provides glimpses of brilliance, and Michelle Williams puts in a solid performance, though you can’t help think that Williams – a fault of the script, surely – has not been given nearly enough meat.

Gorgeous cinematography together with a powerhouse performance by Matthias Schoenaerts as the conflicted Bruno lend huge weight to this film with his powerhouse performance.

It won’t go down as a classic (it could do with an extra 15 minutes to extend a dramatic but rather abrupt ending, for starters), but Suite Francaise is an often deeply poignant portrait of people doing their best to survive war, each of them in their own way proving how a seemingly innocent action can provoke devastating effects.