Ashes in the Snow (2018)

It's been two years since I read Ruta Sepetys's novel Between Shades of Gray, one of the most emotional as well as difficult to read books I've read. So when I heard it had been adapted into a movie, I was pretty excited to see it. Unfortunately, Ashes in the Snow —they changed the title to avoid confusion with the Fifty Shades series— is a disappointment. 

Set in the 1940s, the story follows Lina (Bel Powley), a sixteen-year-old Lithuanian girl who is preparing for art school, first dates and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police force into her house, and her mother, Elena (Lisa Loven Kongsli), her little brother, Jonas (Tom Sweet), and she are deported to a Soviet labour camp.

Ashes in the Snow arguably has an important story to tell as I'm sure most people are unaware of the horrors perpetrated by Stalin during World War II —I personally had never heard about this side of the war, what the Lithuanian population had to endure, before reading the book— and the film does tell that story of atrocities and cruelty. However, while it is educative and manages to be an inspiring tale about the strength of the human spirit, the story isn't compelling enough to keep you interested as it drags in many places and focuses on many subjects for a while only to forget about them very soon, and it lacks the emotional impact of the novel.

Thankfully, the character of Lina is handled a little bit better, her arc being the most interesting part of the film. She goes from being a naive girl whose childhood innocence has been shattered to a strong and resilient young woman who finds a way to carry on in such miserable circumstances. I liked the contrast with her mother who weakens as the story unfolds. I didn't like her romance with Andrius (Jonah Hauer-King), another prisoner at the camp, as their relationship happens suddenly, without much of a buildup —frankly, I don't get why they didn't focus more on this instead of wasting time with many other subjects. The romance, however, was not as disappointing as Nikolai Kretzsky (Martin Wallström), a young Soviet soldier, the only sympathetic character on the Russian side. The problem with him is that he has such a sudden change that seems out of place —I don't remember this happening in the book, but I might be wrong— and makes the sympathetic character yet another despicable one. It angers me so much because this character had so much potential and they just threw it away.

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The performance from Bel Powley is uneven. She is wooden to say the least at the beginning of the film, she looks confused and displays very little emotions. As the character grows, however, her performance gets stronger and, by the end, she is very convincing as she manages to convey the strength, emotions and courage of her character. It's from the supporting cast that we get the best performances. Lisa Loven Kongsli is excellent as Lina's mother, and Martin Wallström is fantastic as the sympathetic Soviet soldier.


  1. I know of the horrors that happened during Stalin's reign. I have read so much and heard what my mom went through after the war when the Russians marched in. The most brutal soldiers, often from prison, were given carte blanche when they went into a country. They raped, pillaged and destroyed with no care. The states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia suffered so much.

    1. It was the same everywhere —Moroccan soldiers raped and killed so many women in Italy during WWII— and I'm afraid it's still like that in war zones.