Geoffrey Rush Catches The Book Thief

Co-starring with Emily Watson

Eight years after its publication, Marcus Zusak's bestseller The Book Thief is finally making its way to the screen under the supervision of director Brian Percival (best known for his British TV drama work, including Downton Abbey). With production gearing up, the cast is now coming together, with Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson headlining. French-Canadian actress Sophie Nelisse (Monsieur Lahzar) has also grabbed a lead role.

Set in Germany during World War II, The Book Thief is narrated by a benign Grim Reaper, who takes a lifelong (if you'll pardon the pun) interest in Liesel Meminger.

Liesel is sent to live with foster parents to distance her from her Communist parents, whose political sympathies will make them targets of the Nazi regime. Living with her new family, the Hubermanns, she befriends Jewish fistfighter Max, who's being hidden in the Hubermans' cellar; the mayor's wife Ilsa, who gives Liesel the run of her library; and various local children, including the tragic Rudy. The novel traces Liesel's personal development, both through her relationships and through the books she reads. She eventually writes the story of her own life, as the war gets closer and closer to home.

Zusak started out as a children's writer, and The Book Thief is one of those novels that straddles the age gap, given two covers and kept on both the adult and kids' shelves in bookshops. First published in 2005, it won numerous awards, and spent more than five years on the New York Times betseller lists.

Nelisse gets to be Liesel, with Rush and Watson playing the Hubermans. Ben Schnetzer (TV's Happy Town) and young German actor Nico Liersch are also confirmed for as-yet unspecified roles (although Max and Rudy seem likely). Michael Petroni (The Rite) wrote the screenplay, and shooting starts later this month in Berlin.