The Diary of Anne Frank - Ellie Kendrick
The Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank (Ellie Kendrick) ©2010 Darlow Smithson Productions for Masterpiece

Nineteen-year-old Ellie Kendrick is currently attending Cambridge University in England. At the same time her powerful performance as Anne Frank in Masterpiece Classic’s The Diary of Anne Frank is premiering on PBS on April 11th, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Called the most accurate adaptation of Anne Frank’s moving diary, the film chronicles the Frank family as they flee from the Nazis in Amsterdam. Hiding behind a bookcase in a secret annex with random bombs exploding, Anne faces friction with her family, a desire for independence and the first stirrings of young love. It’s a remarkable record of a young woman’s first-hand observations of the Holocaust.

Spotlighted at the TV Critics Association, Ellie did her interview via satellite, from Cambridge, England.

What were your impressions of Anne as you made this movie?

The Diary of Anne Frank - Producer Rebecca Easton, Screenwriter Deborah Moggach and Ellie Kendrick
Producer Rebecca Easton on stage, and via satellite Screenwriter Deborah Moggach and actress Ellie Kendrick at the Television Critics Association meeting this year © PBS

I think Anne was a very difficult character to play in some ways, while really enjoyable, because she does have these two levels. On one level, she is just a normal teenage girl.

She is a giggly 13-year-old when she starts writing the diary, and she can be very feisty, and she does talk about boys a lot. The transition was quite different because she was 15 by the time the diary’s finished.

She began to attempt to speak for Jewish people and teenagers on a very broad level. She became a very profound thinker, so it was quite difficult to maintain that duality of a very vivacious young girl and this very inspired, almost philosophical thinker.

The way I got through it was through Deborah’s (Moggach) fantastic script and obviously the diary itself, because you see on the pages in front of you, the transition of this girl throughout the two years she spent in the annex.

So it was kind of done for me in a way. It was a fantastic process to go through, but strange because we were filming the scenes in a different order.

How familiar were you with the story of Anne Frank?

The Diary of Anne Frank - Iain Glen, Ellie Kendrick, Tamsin Greig
Anne’s father (Iain Glen), Anne Frank (Ellie Kendrick) and Emma (Tamsin Greig) © Darlow Smithson Productions for Masterpiece

I hadn’t actually read The Diary of Anne Frank before I was cast in the role. I don’t know how it is in the U.S. but in the U.K. that’s quite unusual to be a teenage girl and not to have read the diary because I think, after the Bible, it’s one of the most read books in the world.

Once I was cast in the role I read the diary and I was astonished by how direct and how informative and involving it was.

Do you feel that it’s getting lost on your generation, both the story of Anne and the Holocaust?

I think while we are not in massive danger of the story dying out imminently, I think it’s really important that the book continues to be read, because it’s very rare that you can get such a personal and intimate testament of someone who actually went through the terrible ordeal that so many millions of people suffered during that time.

And it’s kind of easy to forget about it, and I think what Anne Frank’s diary does which is so great is it really gets in touch with teenagers in a way that history books can’t.

The Diary of Anne Frank - Ellie Kendrick
Anne Frank (Ellie Kendrick) © Darlow Smithson Productions for Masterpiece

Why do you think of all the stories of the Holocaust this one endured so long?

I think one of the reasons why it’s been so popular is because Anne is a character you can really identify with, because of the diary. During her time in the annex, it was her portal out of there, out of the claustrophobia.

It was her only friend she could use to escape from all the people around her that were constantly in her face. I think she confides in the diary so wholly and so intimately that you’re granted this window into a person’s soul.

Did you ever get to go to Amsterdam and see where Anne and her family hid for two years?

We went to Amsterdam on the final weekend of filming to see the annex and to film some exterior shots. And it was quite an eerie experience to go into this place which we’d been living in a copy of in East London in the studios.

To go there where the event actually occurred was more than a little eerie. It was really strange and brought the whole experience home to all of us. It made us realize that these events actually happened.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.