When I was thirteen, I read The Diary of Anne Frank at school, and as soon as I’d finished it, I started again. I can still practically quote sections from it, and moreover it started me in the habit of writing a diary. I was excited to hear that the BBC were producing a five-part series based on it, in the capable hands of Deborah Moggach, and last night’s first episode did not disappoint. No fiction could be better than this true story: the trials of adolescent life are mixed in with the much more serious trials of war, and of being Jewish in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Anne Frank’s enthusiasm for life, not even repressed by the banalities of life in the Secret Annexe, is very well-played by Ellie Kendrick, who even looks spookily like Anne. Her ups and downs, which Anne’s diary records as a dual nature – vivacious on the outside and serious and thoughtful on the inside – is portrayed perfectly. That this journey of self-discovery in hiding leads not to the brilliant career she dreams of, but to death in Belsen, is only one of the tragedies of the narrative.
Anne’s mother, Edith, played by Tamsin Greig, is one of the triumphs of this programme; Anne’s diary is often unsympathetic to her mother, as teenagers often are, but Moggach permits us to see her as a woman on the verge of a breakdown, angry at what was happening in the world and fearful for her family. That the tale of people in hiding, who could never go outside, has managed to capture the imagination of so many readers over the last fifty years is a tribute to the career Anne might have had; it is personality, as much as if not more than war, which makes it compelling, and this series seems to depict that brilliantly. I hope this production will introduce more thirteen-year-olds to the book as well.