Resistance review – mime star Marcel Marceau's wartime heroics

A handsomely produced and well-meaning movie, but freighted with cliche, about the remarkable wartime career of mime legend Marcel Marceau in the French resistance. He helped thousands of Jewish children and adults escape Nazi-occupied France. It’s a very notable story but this is another of those sepia second world war films for which there continues to be a solid market.

Preposterously, the action is supposed to be narrated in flashback by General Patton (a cameo for Ed Harris) as he addresses the serried ranks of the US troops who have just liberated France, telling them the story of one of that country’s most amazing civilian heroes – Marceau. (The troops are supposed to have remained standing for the entire length of the story.) Jesse Eisenberg plays Marceau, the young Chaplin superfan who uses his flair for comedy and mime to gladden the hearts of the Jewish orphans in France under his care before the Nazi invasion, the same children that he would have to save from the death camps.

There’s plenty of resistance derring-do, and the film imagines a tense face-to-face encounter on a train between Marceau, posing as a choirmaster with his kids trained to sing Ave Maria to disguise their Jewish origin from the Nazis, and the notorious Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, played with icy fanaticism by Matthias Schweighöfer.

Eisenberg does an honest job with the role of Marceau, but it is a subdued performance. Marceau emerges as animatedly nerdy before the Nazis invade, but when the film has to show his heroism, Eisenberg plays him pretty straight. The result is a performance that could have been turned in by anyone.

• Resistance is available on digital platforms from 19 June.