It’s been more than 60 years since the “Diary of Anne Frank” was first published. Since then it’s been reprinted in German, French and English, turned into a stage production, made into several movies for the big screen and television and spun off countless other books analyzing the life of this brave little girl.
So, after so much ink, film and spoken words, why produce another version of the diary?
Ellie Kendrick, the 19-year-old British actress who portrays Anne in the latest dramatization of the story, has asked herself the same question.
“The role has been portrayed so many times before and that was a terrifying thing for me,” she told The Chronicle in a phone interview.
Kendrick plays Anne in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which premieres Sunday, April 11, at 9 p.m. on the PBS program “Masterpiece Classics.”
The film is part of a series of programs being shown next week called Shoa Week on PBS (see story next page).
However daunting the role was, Kendrick found ways to deal with the demands
For one thing, she didn’t watch any other portrayals of Anne. To avoid mimicking another other actress,
“I made a conscious decision not to do that,” she said.
Mostly, though she just stuck to the actual words of the diary, which was easy to do.
The Anne Frank House gave Deborah Moggach, the screenwriter this version of Anne permission to use unpublished parts of the diary.
“So we could use the words that Anne used herself,” Kendrick said, “and that helped it remain faithful to the character that Anne was.”
That was liberating for the Kendrick, who was only 17 years old when the movie was made. “Once we started filming I never consciously thought about trying to do this differently. I was always just acting with what was given.”
But use of the copyrighted words came with a heavy responsibility.
“Most of the time when you get a role you can take liberties with it, but obviously there was a huge amount of responsibility with this role because Anne was actually alive and recorded her thoughts in a diary,” Kendrick said. “People have read it across the world, but it was easier to be faithful to her when I used her words. I could read her diary and they were almost the exact words I was going to say the next day on the set.”
Kendrick, a first year English student at Cambridge University, isn’t Jewish, and she doesn’t believe that’s necessary to give an honest portrayal of Anne.
Indeed, many past actresses who portrayed Anne — Millie Perkins, for example — were not Jewish either.
“Whether I’m Jewish or not wouldn’t change the role because in the diary itself Anne records the girl she is. The reason she was in hiding was because she was Jewish but that didn’t change the girl she was or the way she saw life,” said Kendrick.
How Kendrick’s portrayal of Anne stands up against past performances remains to be seen, but she’s already been given a big vote of confidence.
While still filming the movie, Buddy Elias, a first cousin of Anne and her last surviving relative, visited the set. Elias is the president of Anne Frank-Fonds, a foundation based in Basil, Switzerland, which owns all rights to the diary.
Elias, who heads the organization founded by Anne’s father, Otto Frank, took a liking to the young actress and showed her a necklace that Anne presumably wore before she went into hiding.
After the movie premiered, Kendrick said, “He came up to me and said, ‘That was most lifelike Anne I’ve seen in all the productions I’ve seen.’ To me that was a huge complement.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)