'Small Light' star Bel Powley: Miep Gies a feminist everywoman in Anne Frank story

Bel Powley stars as Miep Gies in the historical drama series, "A Small Light." Photo courtesy of Disney
1 of 5 | Bel Powley stars as Miep Gies in the historical drama series, "A Small Light." Photo courtesy of Disney

NEW YORK, May 1 (UPI) -- The Morning Show and The King of Staten Island alum Bel Powley says she didn't know much about the life and personality of Miep Gies before agreeing to play the World War II heroine in the new fact-based drama, A Small Light.

"Obviously, I was familiar with Anne Frank. I read the diary as a kid. I was familiar with this part of history, but I really didn't know anything about Miep," the 31-year-old actress told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


"I read the book she wrote called Anne Frank Remembered. I used that as my main source of research and got a sense of her voice through that book."

What Powley learned about Gies amazed her.

"She was a very modern woman, a woman ahead of her time, a feminist. That's what I found most impressive about her," Powley said.


At the same time, Gies was an everywoman.

"The character is very relatable to probably all young women," Powley said.

"She talks about how before the war started she liked to go out dancing and liked partying and she was very social and she loved her husband," the actress added. "She really just was this everywoman who found herself in this extraordinary situation and who ended up doing extraordinary things."

The eight-part series, A Small Light, premieres Monday on National Geographic with two episodes, which will be available to stream Tuesday on Disney+ and Hulu.

It follows Gies before, during and after her courageous act of hiding Anne Frank (Billie Boullet), her family and several other Jews in an Amsterdam attic for two years to protect them from the Nazis.

The group was eventually discovered and taken away to concentration camps, but Gies managed to preserve Anne's journal and gave it to her father Otto after Anne, her sister and mother perished in the camps in 1945.

Otto published the diary and it became a bestseller credited with helping generations of young readers understand the horrors of the Holocaust.

Gies died in 2010 at the age of 100.


A Small Light shows how Gies came to work for Otto Frank (Liev Schreiber); befriended his wife Edith (Amira Casar) and daughters Anne and Margot (Ashley Brooke); and met and fell in love with Jan (Joe Cole), who would become her husband of 52 years.

"I've often gravitated in my career towards more character-based projects about relationships, so to have that aspect in this big historical drama was kind of important to me," said Powley.

"It was an interesting angle on [a well-known story]. Yes, it's about this really intense part of history and, yes, it's about the Frank family, but it's also a kind of coming-of-age story and it's also a love story. It's very universal in that way. I think there is something in this tale that everyone will relate to."

The miniseries imparts an important message for 2023 viewers about helping others, even when it means risking one's own comfort or safety.

"What we can hope is that people who watch this show can really hold up a mirror to themselves and think: 'What would I do? What could I do?'" Powley said.

"It couldn't be more relevant now with the rise of anti-Semitism and the refugee crisis."


The title, A Small Light, comes from a quote with which Gies used to end her public speaking appearances after the war.

"She always used to say this quote which was that anyone can -- whether you are a teenager or a housewife -- turn on a small light in a dark room," Powley said.

"She never wanted to be called a hero because she kind of wanted to show that any individual, however significant or insignificant you find yourself, can help. You can help a neighbor. You can help those that you love. It's a really powerful message."

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