Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Diary of Anne Frank

The backlog of programs on my DVR is absolutely out of control. The latest adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank aired almost a month ago on Masterpiece Classic, and I can't for the life of me believe I let this film sit, unwatched, on my DVR that long. Life happens, hmm? Friends, this is an extraordinary film, and if you missed it, or perhaps though I "know" the story, what can a new film possibly bring to the table - let me encourage you to set those thoughts aside and to make some time to watch this as soon as you can. If you need a "refresher," here's the film summary from the PBS website:

"When I write, all my sadness disappears."
Anne Frank in 'The Diary of Anne Frank'
For Jewish teenager Anne Frank (Ellie Kendrick), her diary is her one true friend and confidant. In it, she records the thoughts of a typical teen — only set against a backdrop of encroaching evil in Amsterdam during World War II. Stowed away behind a bookcase in a secret annex with her family and others to flee the Nazis, Anne experiences her time in hiding as an adventure. And, amidst closed quarters and random bomb blasts, Anne faces friction with family, a desire for independence and the first stirrings of young love. As Anne's identity solidifies, so does her resolve to be a writer — her diary a tangible and remarkable record of a young woman's first-hand observations of the Holocaust, and the innate goodness she still sees in people. Drawing on Anne Frank's own words in the most accurate-ever adaptation of the revered memoir, Masterpiece presents The Diary of Anne Frank on Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2010.
The Franks
Ellie Kendrick is an absolute revelation as Anne Frank. Not only does she bear an almost eerie resemblance to the real Anne, she does an extraordinary job of capturing the many facets of Anne's character. She's wise and immature, kind and selfish, brilliant and dense - in other words, a typical, complicated teenager just trying to figure out her place in an upside-down world. It's been several years since I've seen any of the other film adaptations of Anne's memoir, so I have only vague recollections and impressions of the performances. But going by feeling alone, I have to say Kendrick's Anne is the most alive, passionate, memorable take on the character. It's as if Anne has leaped from the pages of her diary to full, brilliant life. This may seem like a little thing, but as a cat lover it jumped out to me - in other films I can't recall a scene where Anne is forced to leave behind her beloved pet when the family goes into hiding. As a fellow cat lover I could so relate to that moment, that sacrifice on Anne's part - and that "little" thing just broke my heart on Anne's behalf. As the centerpiece of the film, Kendrick anchors the story with unbelievable strength and conviction - very, very well done.

Anne's father, Otto, is played by Iain Glen who may be a familiar face to Masterpiece viewers - he played Mr. Preson in Wives and Daughters (and he has an upcoming two-episode appearance in Doctor Who!). Glen's Otto is a noble, tragic figure, and an incredibly kind man. I found myself trying to imagine what it must have been like to be the only member of his family to survive the camps - and just trying to fathom that heartbreak leaves me speechless. Glen and Kendrick have a wonderful on-screen father-daughter relationship. Anne was definitely a daddy's girl, but this movie doesn't shy away from the fireworks her teenage "growing pains" caused her parents. Anne's mother, Edith, is played by Tamsin Greig who was most recently seen on Masterpiece Classic in the latest production of Emma, playing Miss Bates. Greig does a fantastic job here, showing Edith's struggles to come to terms with life in hiding, and her heartache over coping with Anne who is just at a place in her life when she wants nothing to do with her mother. Knowing how the story ends, that's just one more aspect of the film that will break your heart - it really got me to thinking about how we humans do tend to think we'll live forever, that we'll always have another day to change our minds about something or to make things right with another, and that's not always the case, is it? Felicity Jones plays the final member of the Frank family - Anne's older sister, Margot. I confess I almost didn't recognize her - hidden behind large round glasses and wartime hand-me-down clothes, Margot is a far cry from the vivacious Catherine Morland Jones portrayed in Northanger Abbey. Though the role of Margot isn't as "flashy" as Anne's, I was quite impressed with the long-suffering quality Jones brought out in the role.

The Van Daans
When the Van Daans join the Franks in hiding, both families find their patience sorely tested. Hermann Van Daan is played by Ron Cook, who some of you Masterpiece Classic fans may remember as Chivery (Russell Tovey's dad!!) in Little Dorrit last year. His wife, Petronella, is played by another familiar face - Lesley Sharp. She's appeared in everything from Return to Cranford (playing the not-so-lovely Mrs. Bell) to the classic Doctor Who episode "Midnight." It's funny, but Petronella Van Daan is one character I distinctly remember from the classic 1959 film version of Anne Frank. Shelley Winters was so memorable in the role, but I have to say Sharp really measures up in comparison - she's every bit as loud, and funny, and occasionally obnoxious as Winters ever was. ;-) Their son, the quiet and introverted Peter, is played by Geoff Breton. Breton hasn't appeared in all that much, but he was apparently in the Inspector Lewis episode "The Quality of Mercy" last season on Masterpiece Mystery. Sadly I don't remember his performance. :-( But he does make up for that here. The crush that develops between Peter and Anne is just heartbreakingly adorable. The whole time I was watching their relationship develop, I kept thinking - if they had survived, would they have married eventually? What might they have become? So, so much potential cut off all too soon - but so thankful that Anne left that diary and had a knack for bringing her life and the people who inhabited it to life on the page.

Everyone else...
Nicholas Farrell is an old favorite of mine, and he plays Albert Dussel, the dentist who joins the Franks and Van Daans after the two families have been in hiding for a while. Farrell is such a great actor, capable of conveying so much emotion in his performances. Some of my favorites include his turn as Antonio in Twelfth Night, Horatio in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, Torchwood: Children of Earth, and Collision (from Masterpiece Contemporary last year). He's also appeared in various random episodes of mystery shows like Poirot and the stellar Robert Lindsay vehicle Jericho. It has been so long since I've watched this story I honestly don't remember Dussel's character at all. Farrell does a good job driving home how much of an outsider he must've felt like as a single man living with two complete family units.

And two final quick notes on the acting - the Franks' faithful friend and caretaker Miep Gies is played by actress Kate Ashfield, who incidently was also an alum of Collision. Also, friend Bep Voskuijl is played by Mariah Gale, who was just seen on Great Performances opposite David Tennant as Ophelia in Hamlet. More on that show, and her performance at a later date. :)

Kudos to the production team and director for delivering a fast-paced, thoroughly absorbing film. The way the movie is staged, you end up feeling clausterphobic as the attic's inhabitants must have felt. Close quarters with never a break - how could you not want to snap? Yet there was no other choice, and in the end I can't think that I would've been able to handle what these people did half so well. Gritty, realistic, inspiring, and incredibly moving, this adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank is not to be missed.


Laura Frantz said...

Wow - very moving review, Ruth. I will never forget reading the book as a teen years ago. It has stayed with me ever since. Good to know this adaptation of it is very well done as it is such a powerful message. Bless you for giving us a close look.

Unknown said...

@Laura - I hope you get the chance to see this version soon - I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Deborah said...

is the US version severely edited or something? i just got it from netflix and my envelope says it's supposed to be 2 hours and 15 minutes. Wikipedia says that when this was originally broadcasted on the BBC it was in 5 30 minute episodes. yet i just put my dvd and it's saying it's only 100 minutes. i feel cheated

Unknown said...

@Deborah - I'm confused about the run time too. I looked it up on Amazon and there are 2 DVD listings - one says "as seen on PBS" and the other lists a much longer runtime with no mention of a PBS broadcast. PBS edits EVERYTHING so I wouldn't be surprised. I just wish I knew which version was the definitely the full one. Would also be nice to know WHY PBS appears to be shortchanging viewers (again)...

Anonymous said...

This is definitely on my list of must-watch-movies after I suffer through finals!

Deborah said...

i'm in the middle of watching it and it's really obvious where they have made cuts. very sloppy PBS, very sloppy.

but the story is really good. was not expecting that rear shot of peter but it was well received :)

Deborah said...

i KNEW Anne's mom looked familiar!!! thank you!!!!!

Deborah said...

and OMG i did not realize Margot was Catherine!!! those glasses made her look horrible.

as you can tell i am only now reading your review AFTER i finished watching lol

Unknown said...

@singinpearl13 - Good luck with finals! :)

@Deborah - I really, really hate the way PBS chops up these programs. I get that they are expensive to broadcast but is there not some way to show the ENTIRE film, and then add even more adverts on the end?? Or something???

Margot underwent QUITE the transformation from Catherine, didn't she? LOL! And I loved the view-along commenting, haha!!