The movie is based on Irène Némirovsky's unfinished book "Suite Française" and focuses on the novel "Dolce". The book was only found after Némirovsky's death at a concentration camp in Auschwitz in 1942. Her elder daughter, Denise Epstein, kept the notebook containing the manuscript of Suite Française for fifty years without reading it, believing that it would indeed be a journal or diary too painful to read. In the late 1990s, however, having made arrangements to donate her mother's papers to a French archive, Denise decided to examine the notebook first. At last discovering what it contained, she instead had it published in France, where it became a bestseller in 2004.
Initially, Matthias Schoenaerts didn't want to accept the role of a Nazi officer because he had moral issues with the character, but he changed his mind after he read the book in which the film is based on and thought, "if the writer loves the character so much, then I have to allow myself to love him as well".
This film is the fourth of five productions in which Matthias Schoenaerts played a soldier. He also played a soldier in The Emperor of Taste (2008) (a Belgian soldier in World War II); Tunnelrat (2008) (an Allied in World War One); Death of a Shadow (2012) (a Belgian soldier in World War One) and Disorder (2015) (a French soldier in Afghanistan). Schoenaerts also appeared in Black Book (2006) as a member of the Dutch Resistance in World War II.
A framing device in which Denise Epstein (Irène Némirovsky's daughter), discovered her mother's book was reportedly shot and subsequently cut. The role was played by Eileen Atkins. The scenes were cut because test audiences were confused and believed that Michelle Williams's character was meant to be Némirovsky.
The book Suite Française is similar to other two books: Jean Bruller's 1942 novel "The Silence of the Sea" (which was adapted to the screen in Le Silence de la Mer (1949) and The Silence of the Sea (2004)), and Bruce Marshall's 1943 novel "Yellow Tapers for Paris". All the three books were written at about the same time, there is no suggestion of plagiarism - Irene Némirovsky was dead before Bruller's and Marshall's novels were published and no one saw Némirovsky's work before its 1998 discovery.
Although the film was released on theaters in 30 countries between 2015 and 2016, and has been available for streaming in Europe and Latin American via Netflix, it didn't have a theatrical release in the U.S. and no reason was given, as the movie was bought by The Weinstein Company in May 2013, a month before filming began. Suite Française was scheduled to have its US premiere on TV through Lifetime cable network on October 10, 2016, but the release was postponed to May 22, 2017.
The film was originally scheduled to be released theatrically in the UK on January 23, 2015, but it was postponed to March 13, 2015. Xavier Marchand, the president of eOne Films, revealed in interview with The Hollywood Reporter in November 2014, that he was planning to do a BAFTA campaign for the film when the release was scheduled for January 2015. The March release made the film ineligible for BAFTA consideration.
In 2006, Variety reported that Universal Pictures had acquired the rights to Irène Némirovsky's novel Suite Française. Ronald Harwood was set to write the screenplay, with Kathleen Kennedy' and Frank Marshall producing the film. In 2007, French company TF1 Droits Audiovisuels acquired the rights to the novel from publisher Éditions Denoël. The novel was then adapted for the screen by Saul Dibb and Matt Charman, with Dibb directing.
Alexandre Desplat was originally attached to compose the film's musical score. Director Saul Dibb wanted Bruno's piano piece to be composed before shooting began, and he wanted it to be played during the film as "a developing theme" and then at the end in its full form. Desplat wrote "Bruno's Theme", but was unable to write the final score for the entire film and was replaced by Rael Jones. Jones's score was recorded at the Abbey Road Studios in London.
In 2008, Matthias Schoenaerts starred in the Belgian mini-series The Emperor of Taste (2008), about the Nazi occupation of Belgium. In this mini-series, Schoenaerts plays a Belgian soldier who goes to war and leaves his girlfriend behind.
Actresses Kristin Scott Thomas (Madame Angellier) and Harriet Walter (Viscountess de Montmort) both portrayed Winston Churchill's wife Clementine: Kristin Scott Thomas in Darkest Hour (2017) and Harriet Walter in The Crown (2016).
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
In the novel "Captivité" (the third of Némirovsky's novels in the book), Benoît has "friends" (the nascent Communist resistance) in Paris. Lucile drives him to the city, where he is concealed by the Michauds, whom the Angelliers met briefly in "Tempête en juin". In Paris, Benoît and Jean-Marie Michaud (a wounded French soldier) are denounced, arrested and in prison, meet Hubert, a French soldier. Jean-Marie is pardoned by the Germans, when Lucile contacts Bruno von Falk on his behalf. Benoît and his friends organize an escape and release Jean-Marie and Hubert. Jean-Marie and Lucile meet and fall in love but after learning that she is still in love with Bruno, he leaves to fight against the Germans and dies heroically. On the Eastern Front, Bruno is also killed, Lucile losing her French and German beloveds. In a sub-plot, the writer Gabriel Corte, a relatively minor and unsympathetic character in the novel "Tempête en juin", emerges as a propagandist and politician, initially collaborating with the Germans, later perhaps disaffected; Benoît dies brutally and full of hope. The characters Jean-Marie Michaud, Hubert and Gabriel Corte don't appear in the film.