The Diary of Anne Frank -- TV Review

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The emotional tug of "The Diary of Anne Frank," and especially this new version of it on PBS' "Masterpiece Classic," derives more from Anne's observations about herself and those around her than on her desperate circumstances. Her diary, though it includes incidents of fear and alarm, has less to do with the murderous brutality of the Nazi invaders outside the Amsterdam annex where she and her family hid and everything to do with the precocious and sometimes profound insights of an adolescent girl on the cusp of womanhood.

In 1942, just as Anne turned 13, the Germans turned up the heat on Jews in occupied Netherlands. The Nazis already had forbidden Jews from engaging in public activity, including sitting on park benches. Now they began to round them up and deport them to labor and death camps.

Otto Frank, who owned a building for his spice import business, built a crude living area in the upstairs annex, with an entrance hidden by a movable bookcase. There, he hid with his wife and two daughters, Anne and Margot. Soon after, they were joined by an employee, his wife and their teenage son, then by a single dentist. The eight of them hid for about two years until they were betrayed. A year later, the war was over, but only Otto survived.

Previous versions of this classic also emphasized Anne's emotional and physical transition but were more discreet in their dramatizations. Perhaps out of respect for her untimely death and out of deference to her surviving father, earlier versions portrayed Anne as more saintly, less robust.

Not so with this latest attempt, timed for broadcast Sunday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In her adaptation, Deborah Moggach strips away some of the sentimentality to reveal a more colorful Anne. The young heroine is more precocious and self-aware. Mature in some ways, less so in others, she is a full-blooded teen capable of romantic idealism and selflessness one moment and headstrong rebellion the next.

For all that, this new "Diary" would not have been nearly as successful without the riveting performance coaxed by director Jon Jones from newcomer Ellie Kendrick in the title role. She brings a passion and personality to the role that makes Anne endearing and vexing, simultaneously unique and universal.

Other performances are noteworthy as well, in particular those of Iain Glen as Otto and Lesley Sharp as Mrs. Van Daan, the petulant wife of Frank's employee.

Technical credits are superb. Once in the annex, we, too, are never allowed outside. Like Anne, we focus on the miracle of life and the struggle for survival in a world of subdued light and shadow. It's a triumph from start to finish.

Airdate: 9-11 p.m. Sunday, April 11 (PBS)
Production: A Darlow Smithson production in association with France 2 for BBC
Cast: Ellie Kendrick, Iain Glen, Tamsin Greig, Felicity Jones, Ron Cook, Lesley Sharp, Geoff Breton, Nicholas Farrell, Kate Ashfield
Executive producers: John Smithson, Rebecca Eaton
Line producer: Kate Murrell
Producer: Elinor Day
Director: Jon Jones
Teleplay: Deborah Moggach
Director of photography: Ian Moss
Production designer: Luana Hanson
Editors: Sue Wyatt, Ben Lester
Music: Charlie Mole
Costumes: Michele Clapton
Art director: Sophia Stapleton
Casting: Kate Rhodes James
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