Friday, June 13, 2014

Movie Matinee #5: The Diary of Anne Frank (2009)

"I want to go on living even after my death"
 4 April 1944

Yesterday was Anne Frank's 85th birthday and so I thought I would take a look at the 2009 BBC/Masterpiece Theatre production of The Diary of Anne Frank.

There have been a number of film and stage adaptations of Anne Frank's famous diary, chronicling the over two years spent in hiding from the Nazis.  I have seen the 1959 adaptation starring Millie Perkins, whose portrayal of Anne as a wide-eyed waifish looking girl was, a little to flat and unrealistic.  I think the movie reviewer said it best in his 1959 NY Times review: "…there does not surge out of her [Perkins] frail person a sense of indestructible life, of innocence and trust that show no shadows, of a spirit that will not die.  She does not rise  in the drama as a pillar of perceptible faith in man.  She is reedy..."

Year later, in 1997, I saw Natalie Portman in a stage production of The Diary of Anne Frank, which I liked very much.  I thought Portman did a very creditable job of portraying Anne and Linda Lavin was a truly wonderful Mrs. Van Daan.  But the play closed early because it had been struggling to fill seats at every performance and when it didn't win any Tony awards, the produced decided to cut their losses.

L. Millie Perkins as Anne R. Natalie Portman as Anne
In 2010, a new production of The Diary of Anne Frank aired on television in England and the United States.  I had watched it when it first aired on Masterpiece Theatre and watched it again last night.  I realized that the thing that I found to be so powerful in this production was that it captured exactly was was missing from the 1959 movie.  Anne was played by Ellie Kendrick, a young English actress who you may recognize from her role as Meera Reed in the Game of Thrones TV series.  Ellie was actually 17 years old at the time she was playing 13 year old Anne, but I thought she brought Anne to life in a way that hasn't been done before.

Here, at last, is a robust Anne that resembles a real 13 year old girl.  She is self-absorbed, moody, impulsive, kind, fresh, loving, angry, flirty and curious.  And she is fearful, as are all the occupants of that very cramped Secret Annex, their hiding place above her father Otto Frank's place of business, a pectin and spice company.   Kendrick's portrayal of Anne is almost perfection as she brings all these mixed emotions and feelings out with perfect timing, and a wonderful flounce when she is obviously angry but silent.  And we never lose the sense of "a spirit that will not die."

FYI: Kendrick's version of Anne also finally talks about more intimate things like getting her period, her painful, messy, but sweet secret, and being curious about her changing body and budding sexuality - passages that were edited out of the her diary by her father when it was originally published.  Anne's burgeoning sexuality was finally put back into the diary when the definitive edition was published in 1995.  I think this makes Anne more of a person that a symbol and I am rather glad that when she adapted the diary for this production, Deborah Moggach included it in her well done screenplay.

Kendrick with Iain Glen as Otto Frank and Tamsin Greig as Edith Frank
The film is done with a lot of voice over using the content of the diary, and just enough dialogue to move time along.  Additionally, the tension among the residents of the attic as time went by, as food shortages increased and the abject fear they felt each time there were noises near the attic door that they were about to be discovered by armed Nazis is simply payable and will set your heart racing.

But knowing the ultimate outcome of all the lives in the attic makes this beautifully done film so very difficult to watch.  But do watch it, nevertheless, especially if you haven't seen it yet.

You can watch an OK version of the entire film on YouTube, but the film is also available at the library, or you can purchase a copy, and PBS occasionally reruns it.

You can download an excellent, extensive Teacher's Guide for this version of The Diary of Anne Frank from PBS Masterpiece Classic

Did you know that on March 28, 1944, Anne was inspired to rewrite her diary after hearing a radio speech by Dutch Cabinet Minister Gerritt Bolkestein who said:
"History cannot be written on the basis of official decisions and documents alone.  If out descendants are to understand fully what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome during these years, then what we really need are ordinary documents - a diary, letters from a worker in Germany, a collection of sermons given by a parson or priest.  Not until we succeed in bringing together vast quantities of this simple, everyday material will the picture of out struggle for freedom be painted in its full depth and glory."
Anne had almost finished revising her diary when the Nazis arrived on August 4, 1944.  Anne wanted to make a difference with her writing and on 1 April 1944, she wrote:
"I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to G-d for this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me.  I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.  But, and that is the great question, will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?"
Poignant words from a writer whose diary has touched so many people.


  1. I read The Diary of Anne Frank a few years ago and it is such an interesting read. I have never seen a televised or movie version of the book, but I am definitely going to check some of them out. The book left a lasting impression on me and I feel like I know Anne.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sounds interesting.
    Do they make kids read this book in schools anymore?