Shawn Levy came to a single conclusion after first reading Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See back in 2014: “I need to make this book. I need it. I need to make it. It’s my dream.” That’s what he told Netflix in a promotional interview about his newly released adaption of the book for the streamer, which takes viewers from the arches of Paris’ Gare Saint-Lazare to the winding streets of Saint-Malo, as well as the woods outside a Berlin military school (among other sumptuous vistas).
Indeed, the World War II-era series — starring Aria Mia Loberti and Mark Ruffalo, and written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight — is gorgeous to look at. Plot-wise, All the Light We Cannot See is about a blind French girl and her father who flee German-occupied Paris with a legendary diamond to keep it from falling into the hands of the Nazis. As for as the execution goes, though?
Eeeek. Let’s just rename this one “All the Good Reviews We Cannot Find.”
- From The Guardian: “The long-anticipated adaptation of Anthony Doerr’s bestselling and Pulitzer prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See is finally here. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely not.”
- RogerEbert.com: “Nothing about this final product suggests that Levy or Knight were the right choice to bring this story to the screen. Their vision for Doerr’s novel is shallow, messy, and, most unfortunately, instantly forgettable.”
- Decider: “Its cowardice in exploring the knottier parts of World War II render it toothless, if not tonally incoherent.”
- USA Today: “Some books should stay on the page.”
This kind of reception is not only quite a shame; it instantly elevates the series into being (for me) the counterpoint to Netflix’s Beef, which I previously argued might be the best Netflix series of 2023. With an atrocious 30% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes to accompany its launch day, All the Light We Cannot See might be the biggest Netflix disappointment of the year. And it’s not for lack of effort, a great cast, or top-notch source material.
Doesn’t this sound like it had the makings of a great Netflix series, at least on paper? From Netflix: “The four-episode limited series follows Marie-Laure (Aria Mia Loberti), a blind French girl, and her father, Daniel LeBlanc (Mark Ruffalo), who flee German-occupied Paris with a legendary diamond to keep it from falling into the hands of the Nazis.
“Relentlessly pursued by a cruel Gestapo officer who seeks to possess the stone for his own selfish means, Marie-Laure and Daniel soon find refuge in St. Malo, where they take up residence with a reclusive uncle (Hugh Laurie) who transmits clandestine radio broadcasts as part of the resistance. Yet here in this once-idyllic seaside city, Marie-Laure’s path also collides inexorably with the unlikeliest of kindred spirits: Werner (Louis Hofmann), a brilliant teenager enlisted by Hitler’s regime to track down illegal broadcasts, who instead shares a secret connection to Marie-Laure as well as her faith in humanity and the possibility of hope.”