Eight year-old Bruno is the sheltered son of a Nazi officer whose promotion takes the family from their comfortable home in Berlin to a desolate area where the lonely boy finds nothing to do and no-one to play with. Crushed by boredom and compelled by curiosity, Bruno ignores his mother’s repeated instructions not to explore the back garden and heads for the ‘farm’ he has seen in the near distance. There he meets Shmuel, a boy his own age who lives a parallel, alien existence on the other side of a barbed wire fence. Bruno's encounter with the boy in the striped pyjamas leads him from innocence to a dawning awareness of the adult world around them as his meetings with Shmuel develop into a friendship with devastating consequences.
Berlin, 1940s. Eight year-old Bruno returns from playing with his school friends to find his home bustling with preparations: his father, a Nazi officer, has just been promoted and his mother is planning a party. Bruno sees no cause for celebration; his father's new job is outside Berlin and the whole family will be moving to the countryside, forcing him to leave the home and friends he loves. His fears of loneliness are confirmed when the family arrives at their dreary, isolated new house.
Bruno finds it difficult to settle into his new life and quickly grows bored. There are no other children to play with and his mother forbids him from exploring behind the house. His older sister Gretel never bothers to talk to him anymore: she is too busy organizing her dolls, or talking to one of her father's men, the handsome, menacing young Lieutenant Kotler. Bruno is intrigued by the existence of an odd sort of farm he can see from his bedroom window, where all the residents seem to be wearing striped pyjamas. When he tries to find out more about the 'farm‚' he is told not to concern himself with it and certainly not to go near it. We know what Bruno does not, that the ‘farm’ is an extermination camp. His mother is also in ignorance - she believes that they are living next to an internment or labour camp; her husband has sworn under oath never to reveal its real purpose as a killing factory designed to implement the ‘Final Solution’, the systematic eradication of the Jewish people.
Bruno befriends a kitchen worker called Pavel, a sorrowful, shuffling man who wears striped pyjamas under his apron. When Bruno falls from a garden swing and cuts his knee while his mother is out, it is Pavel who takes care of him and dresses the wound. Pavel tells Bruno that he once practiced as a doctor and manages a smile when the boy replies that he couldn’t have been very good at it if he needed to practice.
After weeks of hanging around the house, Bruno finally defies his mother and sneaks out through the back garden in search of adventure. Wandering through the woods, he arrives at a barbed wire fence. On the opposite side, a small boy in striped pyjamas is emptying rubble from a wheelbarrow. Thrilled that he has finally found someone his own age to play with, Bruno starts making daily visits to his new friend Shmuel, all the while keeping their meeting secret from his parents and sister.
Over the coming weeks, Bruno becomes increasingly troubled by what he sees and hears at home and what he learns from his secret life at the fence with Shmuel. While his tutor tells him all Jews are evil, his bond with Shmuel becomes stronger. He witnesses the brutal beating of Pavel the kitchen helper at the hands of the volatile Lt Kotler. Moreover, his mother has started to unravel after a repulsive joke made by the young lieutenant reveals the true source of the foul smoke from the camp’s chimneys. Bruno is also unnerved by the changes in his sister who, indoctrinated by their tutor's lessons and her crush on Lt Kotler, has taken to papering the walls of her room with Nazi propaganda. The deteriorating atmosphere of his family home coupled with the stories Shmuel tells him make Bruno question whether something sinister is happening on the other side of the fence and whether his father really is the good man he always thought him to be.
Bruno is surprised to find Shmuel cleaning glassware at his house and gives him a cake but they are caught together by Lt Kotler who accuses Shmuel of stealing food. Instead of defending his little friend against the bullying soldier, Bruno tells Lt Kotler that he has never seen Shmuel before. Later, sickened with remorse, Bruno makes repeated trips to the fence to apologize to his friend but the boy in the striped pyjamas does not appear. When Shmuel returns at last, his face bears a nasty wound from Lt Kotler’s fist and Bruno's shame is profound. Shmuel forgives him, however, and their friendship resumes.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Bruno's mother and father has become so strained that his father decides to send his family away to an aunt in Heidelberg. The move, something Bruno desperately wanted when he first arrived, comes as a huge blow when he realizes he will be separated from his new best friend.
On one of their final meetings, Bruno learns that Shmuel's father has been missing for three days. Bruno promises to help his friend to look for his father - he sees it as an opportunity to atone for his earlier, shameful betrayal. On the day of the move to Heidelberg, Bruno sneaks out to meet Shmuel, armed with a shovel and ready to embark on a last adventure. But once having crossed over, Bruno is swiftly caught up in a monstrous clockwork, sealing his fate along with that of his friend and countless fellow innocents on the other side of the fence.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
A Miramax Films presentation, in association with BBC Films, a Heyday Films production, THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS was shot on location and in the studio in Hungary over 9 weeks in the summer of 2007. The filmis adapted from JOHN BOYNE's award-winning novel and written for the screen and directed by MARK HERMAN whose previous films include “Brassed Off”, “Little Voice” and “Hope Springs”. The film is produced by Heyday Films’ DAVID HEYMAN, producer of the “Harry Potter” franchise as well as “I Am Legend” starring Will Smith, and the upcoming “Yes Man” starring Jim Carrey for Warner Bros. MARK HERMAN is also an executive producer on the film as well as CHRISTINE LANGAN (“The Queen”). The film is co-produced by Heyday Films’ ROSIE ALISON, with Hungarian production services provided by Gabor Varadi (“Taxidermia,” “8MM 2”) and Peter Miskolczi (“Taxidermia,” “8MM 2”).”
The cast includes ASA BUTTERFIELD (“Son of Rambow”, “Ashes to Ashes”) who stars as Bruno alongside newcomer JACK SCANLON making his feature film debut as Shmuel. Bruno’s father and mother are played by DAVID THEWLIS (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, “Naked”) and VERA FARMIGA (“The Departed”, “Breaking and Entering”); his sister Gretel is played by AMBER BEATTIE (“Supernatural”, “Walking to Nairobi”). Also starring in the film are RICHARD JOHNSON (“Jump!,” “Waking the Dead”), SHEILA HANCOCK (“The Russian Bride”, “Three Men and a Little Lady”), RUPERT FRIEND (“The Libertine”, “Pride and Prejudice”), DAVID HAYMAN (“Waking the Dead”, “Where the Truth Lies”), JIM NORTON (“Waking the Dead”, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”) and CARA HORGAN (“The Libertine”, “Hotel Infinity”).
The behind-the-scenes team includes cinematographer BENOIT DELHOMME (“Breaking and Entering,” “The Proposition”), production designer MARTIN CHILDS (“Miss Potter”, “Shakespeare in Love”), costume designer NATALIE WARD (“Derailed”, “Breaking and Entering”), editor MIKE ELLIS (“Brassed Off", “Little Voice”), make-up and hair designer MARESE LANGAN (“Angel”, “Kingdom of Heaven”) and sound mixer JOHN CASALI (“The Good Shepherd”, “Munich”). The original score is written by Oscar-winning composer JAMES HORNER (“Titanic”, “A Beautiful Mind”).