The trailer for the film 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has been rated 12A by the British Board of Film Classification for its "scenes of holocaust threat and horror". As such the film is considered suitable for viewers aged 12 and over, though younger children may be admitted if they are accompanied by an adult.
"I think 12A is an ideal certificate," says its director Mark Herman. "You're never too young to learn about the idiocy of racism and the folly of prejudice."
Based on the novel by Irish author John Boyne, the film (which is a BBC co-production) tells of the friendship that develops between Bruno, the eight-year-old son of a concentration camp commandant, and Shmuel, a Jewish boy who is imprisoned inside. According to Herman, the drama offers young children "an easy first step towards learning about that horrible time in our history".
"It's not a children's film, but it certainly could and should be watched by children," agrees the British actor David Thewlis, who plays Bruno's father. The Harry Potter star says he will "very forcibly" encourage his three-year-old daughter, Gracie, to see the film when she is old enough. This is despite an emotive climax that, while far from graphic, could well prove distressing to those of an impressionable age.
Thewlis concedes that the film ends on a sombre note, but says it is "necessary in order to understand the gravity of the story."
Herman admits he expected the downbeat conclusion to become a point of contention when Disney subsidiary Miramax agreed to finance the production.
"I told them there was no point making the film unless we stayed with the ending," he says. To his surprise, however, the anticipated conflict did not arise. "We always dreaded it coming but it never happened," he reveals.
"As an adaptation it's very faithful," agrees Boyne. "It takes the story and the tone of the book and translates it exactly."
Over the course of the drama, Bruno (newcomer Asa Butterfield) slowly comes to realise the true nature of the camp and his father's role in its activities.
"The film is about his loss of innocence," says Thewlis, who admits he was intrigued by his character's dual nature.
"Family was a big part of the Nazi regime because children were seen as the future," he explains. "Joseph Goebbels (Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister) had six children, even though he murdered them later."
[It is generally accepted that Goebbels' wife, Magda, gave the children cyanide capsules in Hitler's bunker before she and Goebbels committed suicide].
Thewlis read extensively about the Third Reich to prepare for his role, a process he describes as "depressing" but invaluable.
"It was interesting to investigate the love they had for their own children alongside the hatred they had for other people's."
Actor Rupert Friend, though, says he relied on his intuition when portraying Thewlis's sadistic lieutenant.
"Exploring the concentration camps as they exist today was not something I thought would help me," he tells the BBC News website. The Pride and Prejudice star says he tried to keep his character at arm's length but could not help taking him home at the end of the day.
"It's sort of impossible not to," he admits. "You're living outside your own moral values, which is a hard place to spend time mentally."