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We Were the Lucky Ones

Based on Georgia Hunter’s novel of the same name, a fictionalization of a true story, Hulu’s “We Were the Lucky Ones” is a harrowing tale of resilience and family in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. The improbable story concerns the Polish-Jewish Kurc family, who, beginning with Passover in 1937 until Passover in 1947, will endure unspeakable hardships that will test their resolve. 

Taking place over eight episodes, the miniseries, from showrunner Erica Lipez (“The Morning Show”), is composed of a vast ensemble. But the story is primarily told through the eyes of Halina (Joey King) and her pianist brother Addy (Logan Lerman). Their well-off mother and father own a successful shop in Radom, Poland, whose wealthy German clientele appear to be diminishing as the rise of Nazism becomes impossible to ignore, prompting some families to leave Radom for Palestine. 

Nevertheless, their spirits are high as they enter Passover. Addy, a composer and electrical engineer, is returning from Paris; their daughter Mila (Hadas Yaron) is pregnant with her daughter Felicia (Artemisia Pagliano); photographer and law student Jakob (Amit Rahav) is bringing his longtime girlfriend Bella (Eva Feiler) home; Genek (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), the eldest, has just begun dating Herta (Moran Rosenblatt). Of the family, the restless Halina is entering Passover with the most question marks; she’s weighing whether to take the conservative path toward marriage with Adam (Sam Woolf) or seek adventure abroad. 

Nothing in “We Were the Lucky Ones” happens suddenly. Similar to the family, the miniseries works through the slowly escalating events with an air of hopeful caution. As the years wear on, however, the warning signs are too much to ignore. Poland becomes nearly impossible to leave—though Addy makes it out by way of France, while Genek and Herta are sent to Serbia—and before long the German-controlled Radom becomes a kind of prison while the Soviets occupied portion of Poland becomes a brief shelter for those attempting to escape. By the middle of the series the entire family, much like the Jewish diaspora, are scattered to the wind, allowing the miniseries to encompass every corner of the conflict—from South America to Africa to much of Western Europe and the Soviet Union. 

That large canvas often recalls Barry Jenkins’ “The Underground Railroad,” there’s even a scene that appears to be winking to Caesar and Cora’s escape in that series. Jenkins’ adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s same-titled novel consistently reminded one that no matter what part of America Cora ventured through she was never safe from the vicious violence of chattel slavery. The plight experienced by the Kurcs, like many other Jewish families, grapples with the same obstacles. No matter where they go, war and antisemitism follow. And yet, they must persist. If they do not carry on, if they do not find some way to survive, then they’re seemingly losing their grip on the memories of those who did not make it. 

While the script can get bogged down in the kind of expository dialogue meant to catch the viewer up rather than pushing the story forward, the sturdy direction by Amit Gupta, Neasa Hardiman, and Thomas Kail keep one engaged. Tangible period detail intermingled with exhaustive costuming imbues the historical drama palpability, even if the photography is too darkly lit. Still, the tension is fully felt. In one scene, Mila and Felicia are hauled off to quite literally dig their own graves. The cross cutting between Mila giving her daughter instructions toward possible survival is a nerve-wracking scene that speaks to the unrelenting dread and devastation that looms over the entire miniseries.       

It’s difficult to go too deep into each character’s journey, if only because such avenues will lead to spoilers. But suffice to say that King, in a more mature role than in her hit “Kissing Booth” franchise, is a notable highlight. She never plays the character’s many tragedies too broad, retaining a difficult measure of grit and tenacity that rarely dims even as the odds grow bleak. Yaron as Mila is also adept at translating the internal turmoil of a resourceful mother always on the precipice of cracking under the immense pressure of protecting her child. And Lloyd-Hughes as Genek, who undergoes the greatest change—altering from suave playboy into a hardened realist—is particularly potent in a physically grueling turn.   

Despite the rolling tragedies, “We Were the Lucky Ones” does somehow end on a hopeful, albeit ruminative note. The survivors do not merely feel joy for living; there is an unmistakable sadness to knowing what can never exist again that hangs over these final moments. There were, of course, many families like the Krucs, and the series takes well to remain in the bandwidth of that symbolism, even if you can often see the heartstrings being pulled. The clear crafting of those obvious emotions doesn't make the tears engendered by the ending any less earned and real. “We Were the Lucky Ones” is a defiant and harrowing, soul shattering story—one that gives the full range of the horrors that occur when you’ve been displaced, unmoored, and dehumanized.   

Entire season screened for reviewPremieres on Hulu on March 28th.

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels is an Associate Editor at RogerEbert.com. Based in Chicago, he is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) and Critics Choice Association (CCA) and regularly contributes to the New York TimesIndieWire, and Screen Daily. He has covered film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance to Toronto. He has also written for the Criterion Collection, the Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone about Black American pop culture and issues of representation.

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Film Credits

We Were the Lucky Ones movie poster

We Were the Lucky Ones (2024)

Cast

Joey King as Halina Kurc

Logan Lerman as Addy

Sam Woolf as Adam Eichenwald

Marin Hinkle as Madame Lowbeer

Ido Samuel as Isaac

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