He became a farmer and met Franziska, whom he wed on Holy Thursday 1936. They then traveled to Rome, where they received the blessing of Pope Pius XI.
Through Franziska's influence, Franz became the sexton of the local church, taking care of the property and grounds and assisting at liturgies. He started attending daily Mass.
The husband and wife had three girls together and also remained close to Franz's older daughter.
When Hitler invaded Austria in 1938, Franz was the only one in his village to vote against the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Germany.
In 1940, he was called up for military service. The mayor helped him to return home shortly after, but he was again called up for active service from October 1940 until April 1941, when the mayor was again able to intervene for his return home.
During the time he was away, Franz and Franziska exchanged letters. These and other letters between the husband and wife were published in English in 2009.
Pachner said reading those letters was the most important thing she did to prepare for the role. "There's a lot in those letters. And you feel their love, their faith, their day-to-day life," she said.
The letters also play a major part throughout the film as they are heard through narrated voice-overs.
Franz became convinced that it was wrong for him to fight and decided to refuse if he should be called up again, which happened in February 1943.
He offered to carry out other, non-violent military service in place of fighting. However, his request was refused, and he was taken into custody in Linz for two months, then transferred to the Berlin-Tegel prison. He was tried on July 6, 1943 and condemned to death for sedition. He was executed by beheading on Aug. 9, 1943.
A Hidden Life flashes between Franz in prison and his wife and family at home in St. Radegund, as she and her sister take on the full burden of caring for the family farm.
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Pachner said she prepared physically for the role, learning how to scythe wheat, churn butter, milk a cow, and other aspects of farm work.
Another part of her preparation for playing Franziska was to watch the documentary The Widow of the Hero. "It's very small and it's very hard to find. I had to go to a bookstore in some kind of monastery or something to get it," she said.
The documentary has an interview with Franziska when she was 96 years old.
Pachner said she "sort of expected [Franziska] to be broken, in a way, I don't know. And then I saw it and she's not. She's this old fragile lady and she's beaming."
"And that was very important for me because it made me realize that even though she went through all that hardship, even after the war, for decades, that she did not lose trust in the good of life."
Pachner was raised Catholic but said she is no longer practicing her faith. She said that if she were faced with the circumstances which Franziska underwent, she would likely respond differently.