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Ellie Kendrick as Anne Frank

PBS’s new adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank is a must-see for everyone this Sunday night on PBS Masterpiece Classic at 9 PM local time. The film is powerful, how could it not be? Ellie Kendrick, the actress who portrays Anne, is perfect for the part. She is not beautiful like young model Millie Perkins, the 1959 Anne (and hand-picked by Otto Frank, Anne’s father), or 16-year-old Natalie Portman, another beautiful young actress.

Anne Frank learns she is going into hiding

Ellie is more realistic, like the actual Anne – dark-haired, good looking, a little awkward, and on the cusp of womanhood.

Watching the film, I could not help but compare Anne Frank to a young and precocious 15-year old Jane Austen, who in her teens wrote the delightful but irreverent The History of England. Both Jane and Anne changed the world of literature with their writing. Both died too soon, Anne tragically of typhoid fever in Bergen-Belsen. The family had been in hiding for two years and one month before they were betrayed by a Dutch informant.  My heart always aches when I think of how close Anne  came to making it in that notorious concentration camp, for she and her sister died just months shy of liberation.

Albert Dussel joins the Franks and Van Daans. L to R: Tamsin Greig as Mrs. Frank, Iain Glen as Otto, Felicity Jones as Margot, and Ellie Kendrick as Anne

Anne Frank’s story has always loomed large in my life. I spent my childhood years in Holland, as did Anne. My Oma in Utrecht lived near an apartment complex that was similar to Anne’s in this short video. I recall playing with my brother in streets that uncannily resembled the one shot in the film.

Anne and Peter, young love

While Anne and her family, and the Van Daans and Albert Dussel hid in the attic, my 15-year-old step-father hid as a young girl on a Dutch farm in the southernmost tip of The Netherlands. The Franks were able to hide with the help of brave Dutch citizens, as my step-father did. The Franks followed the allied invasion of Normandy and the armies’ progress through Europe, just like my step-father, who pinned their every movement on a map (as in the film).

Keeping tabs on the Allieds' progress

I grew up listening to World War II lore and watching the movies. I grew up wishing with every fiber of my being that the Franks were liberated as both my stepfather and father had been.

Mr. Dussel helps Anne after the attic hideaway has been discovered

But that was not to be. One year before the war’s end, the Franks, Van Daans, and Albert Dussel were betrayed. All died except for Otto Frank. It is a testament to Anne’s humanity that, despite having to hide during the most formative of her young teen-aged years, she was able to write these beautiful words:

Anne Frank writes in her diary

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again”

My heart aches when I think of the loss of those millions of innocent lives in that senseless, hateful war (any war, for that matter).  As I think about Anne and the life she was never able to live out, I am saddened by the fact that 65 years after her death so many of young people have never heard of her, or could care less about World War II. Even my nieces and nephew, whose great grandfather and great uncles died in a Japanese concentration camp, rarely give a thought to their sacrifices. Anne died in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp of typhoid fever in March 1945. The war ended in Europe in May.

View from the attic, the Kerk

It is my hope is that every family will sit down on Sunday night to watch this film together … The final scenes in which the Frank family and Van Daam family are found and taken from their hiding place are heart-rending. April 11 is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Cast:

Miep Gies, Kate Ashfield (helped to hide the Franks)

Miep Gies finds the diaries

Peter van Daan, Geoff Breton (the young man Anne liked)

Peter Van Daan dies of exhaustion 3 days before his camp was liberated.

Hermann van Daan, Ron Cook (Peter’s father)

Hermann Van Daan

Victor Kugler, Tim Dantay (helped to hide the Franks)

Albert Dussel, Nicholas Farrell (Dentist, shared a room with Anne)

Albert Dussel

Johannes Kleiman, Roger Frost (helped to hide the Franks)

Bep Voskuijl, Mariah Gale (helped to hide the Franks)

Otto Frank, Iain Glen (father)

Otto Frank, only survivor

Edith Frank, Tamsin Greig (mother)

Edith Frank

Margot Frank, Felicity Jones (sister)

Margot Frank

Anne Frank, Ellie Kendrick

Anne Frank

SS Silberbauer, Robert Morgan (Nazi officer who captured the Franks)

Petronella van Daan, Lesley Sharp (Peter’s mother)

Petronella Van Daan

Director  Jon Jones

Adapted by  Deborah Moggach

The Diary of Anne Frank Airs: Sunday, April 11, 2010, PBS Masterpiece Classic, 9 PM local time.

The film will be available for online viewing April 12 – May 11, 2010

More on the topic:

Actor Connection to Jane Austen Film Adaptations:

  • Nicholas Farrell played Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park, 1981, and Mr. Musgrove in Persuasion, 2007
  • Felicity Jones played Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, 2007
  • Tamsin Greig played Miss Bates in Emma, 2009

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