Ashes in the Snow

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Ashes in the Snow Movie Poster Image
True-to-book WWII adaptation is violent, sad, emotional.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 98 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The film can be brutal, but themes of courage, perseverance, and compassion shine through, with moments of kindness having more impact amid the terrible events. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lina is a strong, self-actualized girl who fights for freedom and her rights, as well as those of others, even at great personal danger. Her parents are also noble characters who protect Lina whenever they can and encourage her to do her best. Kretzsky is a tormented character who hates the terrible things he does as a soldier but does them anyway. 


Sad/violent scenes are intermittent but have significant impact. A baby dies; grieving mom shrieks and wails. Viewers briefly see the dead baby, watch as mother is murdered. Men leer at, grope female characters (including a teen) who bathe in groups. Characters are shot suddenly, point-blank, for protesting poor treatment. A man forcibly kisses, gropes a woman and threatens rape. A character dies by suicide, is seen hanging from a rope. 


Two characters flirt, eventually share a tender kiss. Breasts (female) and buttocks (male and female) are shown in nonsexual scenes (skinny-dipping and forced group bathing at labor camp). 


Language is infrequent but includes "pr--k" (in a subtitle, referring to body part, which a man says will "freeze and fall off" if he doesn't "use it"), "bitch" (also in a subtitle), "hell." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many characters, including teens, smoke cigarettes. Men drink beer with dinner. A character toasts himself with vodka. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ashes in the Snow is a WWII drama based on Ruta Sepetys' young adult novel Between Shades of Gray. Bel Powley stars as a young Lithuanian girl whose family is taken prisoner by Stalinist forces and imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp. The film's violence, which is very realistic and usually victimizing the innocent, is very upsetting. Babies, parents, older people, and other defenseless people are all rounded up by soldiers with guns and taken to the camp, where some of them are shot point-blank by soldiers (viewers see the bodies slump over and hear the noise but don't see gore). One character dies via suicide; viewers see his body hanging from the ceiling. Men leer and and try to grab women and teen girls (who are forced to bathe in groups); one man gropes and kisses a woman and threatens to rape her. Two characters share a flirtation and a kiss; nonsexual nudity includes breasts and buttocks. Language is infrequent but includes "pr--k," "bitch," and "hell." Many characters smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol at dinner or to toast successes. This drama can be grim, but it also has clear themes of courage, perseverance, and compassion.


User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byAmy E February 12, 2019

Haunting movie about hidden history

I have seen this movie twice. The second time I took my 16-year-old to see it. Like the book, the film is incredibly moving, but it is extremely difficult to wa... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bylia.lia April 9, 2021

Everyone Should See This.

This is the most powerful, moving, emotional movie I have ever seen. I read the book before watching it, and I have to say, they are both beyond amazing. Everyo... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byarnoldwu1880 April 4, 2019

A moving story

This movie is very sad but accurately depicts history. It potrays a lot of people forced into labor from captured countries of Russia. It is a harsh story and i... Continue reading

What's the story?

Based on the best-selling novel Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, ASHES IN THE SNOW is set in Eastern Europe during World War II, where Stalinist forces are determined to wipe out the residents of the Baltic states. Ripped from her comfortable life in Lithuania, budding artist Lina (Bel Powley) is sent to a Siberian labor camp with her mother (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and younger brother (Tom Sweet). Her beloved father's fate? Unknown. Lina can capture the essence of their terrible experiences at the camp in her artwork -- but with her compatriots being wiped out in a terrible genocide, have Stalin's soldiers imprisoned her spirit? 

Is it any good?

Beautiful scenery and powerful actors bring Sepetys' book to life, with much of the plot (including its brutal violence) intact in this painful, emotional adaptation. Many of Ashes in the Snow's story beats will seem familiar to viewers who've watched a Holocaust drama (and certainly those who've read the source novel): Lina's early life seems like a dream of contentment, with comfort, a loving family, a fancy car, flirtatious boys. But after the soldiers' nighttime visit, there's no more sunshine, no more ease. There are only beets and dirt and cold and sudden bullets, a family ripped apart, a bleak future. 

Powley's huge eyes communicate Lina's bottomless pain, and Kongsli is terrific as her steadfast, principled mother. Martin Wallström is also effective as the tortured Kretzsky, a half-Ukrainian soldier who knows he's being pushed into doing the terrible things he must do to rise in Stalin's army -- but does them anyway. Nothing comes easy for these characters, and that makes the film not very easy to watch. But as a document of WWII horrors that are far less well-known than the Holocaust, Ashes in the Snow is an invaluable document that illuminates a terrible period in world history. 

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