Well-Made Art About a Perennially Important Subject: Our Review of ‘We Were The Lucky Ones’

Posted in What's Streaming? by - April 10, 2024
Well-Made Art About a Perennially Important Subject: Our Review of ‘We Were The Lucky Ones’

Well-made art about The Holocaust will always be worthwhile and important. In a historic event where millions died, there are, of course, millions of valuable stories to tell. Based on the 2017 novel by George Hunter (which was in turn inspired by the author’s family’s experiences in World War II), We Were The Lucky Ones, documents the lives of The Kurks, a close-knit Jewish family of five children who are determined to survive the atrocities of The Second World War and reunite with each other.

When we meet The Kurks in 1939 Poland, their lives are full and beautiful. There’s a new grandbaby, new romances, new careers, and even a semi-famous composer sibling with a song on the radio. The Kurks are – or at least should be – thriving, but the threat of war looms over everything they do. And soon, German soldiers are marching in the streets.

While war may be the series’ inciting force, much of the drama comes from the family conflicts that arise in reaction to it. Scenes of German soldiers evicting and abusing Jewish citizens are harrowing, but some of the tensest scenes unfold over the Kurk Family’s dinner table, as relatives argue over when they should have left. At one point, youngest daughter Halina (Joey King) rebukes her parents for not having moved the family out of  Poland before Germany’s invasion. “We could have left,” Halina shouts one evening over scraps. But her parents insist they have already survived the worst thing that could happen (War War I), and they will not be run out of their home this time, either. As an audience member, your heart breaks for the older couple who have no idea how much worse the second major war of their lifetimes will be.

We Were The Lucky Ones showcases the rabid anti-semitism that propelled so much of The Holocaust and the toll it took on Jewish people. However, it isn’t as gritty as recent dramas about this period, like The Zone of Interest. There is a certain glossiness to the series;  even when Halina is forced to work in the fields by violent Nazis, she looks relatively made-up and her skin still glows with youth and beauty. If you are at all familiar with the brutal history of The Holocaust, the almost glamourous Hollywood Treatment of this event can rankle. Having said that, the story of love and survival behind the sheen is beautiful.

While We Were The Lucky Ones is anchored by King, it is an epic family saga. An ensemble cast means it can be difficult to keep track of the universally terrifying but very different experiences the five Kurk siblings have during the war. However, while the narrative can be chaotic, the series has a lot of heart. It is at its best in the little moments, such as two lovers reuniting and declaring their enduring love, or a mother kissing her baby’s head during a time of fear and upheaval. It is a story that honours the humanity the Nazis try to strip of its characters.

Ultimately, We Were The Lucky Ones is a perennially important story told relatively well. It’s worth your watch. The series premieres on April 17th on Disney+ in Canada.

This post was written by
Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Refinery29, Elle Canada, Flare, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-founder of The ProfessionElle Society. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about parenting, politics, and The Bachelor.
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