The Book Thief: Sophie Nelisse will have you reaching for the tissues

The 13-year-old star of Brian Percival's The Book Thief is poised and mature beyond her years, says Ellie Walker-Arnott


The Book Thief – the Brian Percival film based on Markus Zusak’s bestselling novel – tells the touching and bittersweet story of the “book thief”, Liesel Meminger.  


Narrated by death himself, the film follows Liesel, an illiterate young girl living with a foster family in Nazi Germany during WWII who learns to love reading and find solace in literature.

The film is sure to be popular with fans of the book – but, fan or not, you won’t be able to get through it without being moved or even shedding a tear. And while Emily Watson is well cast as Liesel’s stoic, steely foster mother, and Geoffrey Rush is brilliant as her gentle, crinkly eyed Papa, the reason you’ll be reaching for your tissues is the film’s star: 13-year-old Sophie Nelisse.

As Liesel Meminger, learning while the horrors of World War II Germany play out in the background, the relative newcomer plays subdued and sad, brave and spirited and is convincing at every turn.

Nelisse is poised, her performance effortless, her presence grounding. Her mature performance makes her appear older than her 13-years and though you might not know her name now, chances are you will before too long.

Canadian-born Nelisse has already bagged the spotlight award at the Hollywood Film Awards, best performance by a youth in a lead role at the Pheonix Film Critics Society and best newcomer and best breakthrough performance at the Satellite Awards for her role in The Book Thief. 

And while she can already name Monsieur Lazhar, The Family Parent and Esimesac on her CV, her star is very much on the rise. 

The young star has been cast in upcoming Edward Zwick film, where she’ll play a younger version of Lily Rabe’s Joan Fisher, alongside the likes of Tobey Maguire, Live Schreiber and Peter Sarsgaard. And is poised to lead the star-studded cast (think Kathy Bates, Glenn Close and Octavia Spencer) of the big screen adaption of Katherine Paterson’s children’s novel The Great Gilly Hopkins, where Nelisse will play brash, wise-cracking 11-year-old who has spent her short life shuffling between foster homes. 

It’s a very different role to thoughtful Liesel, but if her turn in The Book Thief is anything to go by, she’s sure to shine. 

The Book Thief is in UK cinemas today