All too often when a movie is remade, we wonder why bother. It's even more annoying if earlier productions were worthwhile.
"The Diary of Anne Frank," airing on PBS' "Masterpiece Classic" Sunday, April 11 (check local listings), upends that notion.
The film, premiering on Holocaust Remembrance Day, is nothing short of perfect. Newcomer Ellie Kendrick portrays Anne as precisely what she was: a volatile, smart, headstrong teenager. Of course we know what happens; Anne Frank has long been the face of the Holocaust, one girl representing 6 million murdered Jews.
"I don't think we tried to make Anne Frank into anything she wasn't or adapt her into a new character," Kendrick says. "She was a very modern kind of girl and a very intelligent and vivacious character. She could be annoying, and that's what makes her such a normal teenager. That she had fights with her mom and sister makes her much more poignant and effective; everyone has been through those experiences."
The trick to keeping us watching a story we know will end horridly is a tight script, perfect casting and a set that makes viewers feel the claustrophobia. We want to know these people from a more refined yet hellacious era. The Frank family shared the secret annex with the van Daan family, and Anne had to share her bedroom with a male family friend.
They address one another formally, a respect born of necessity. Their dignity, tinged with the omnipresent terror that every creak in the house could mean instant death, is palpable in the film, which relies more on Anne's diary than the previous productions, using long passages.
Film writer Deborah Moggach spent time in the annex, which was the warren of rooms above the Amsterdam business of Anne's father, Otto. The movie gives a genuine feel to how their lives were so constrained; not being able to talk while workers were downstairs, having a weekly bath and timing when the toilet could be used.
Mostly, it gives a true idea of who Anne was.
"They will understand that Anne was just a normal teenager," Moggach says.