Given the number of TV and movie adaptations, The Diary of Anne Frank is anything but a forgotten story. It is however, easy to fall into the mindset that “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” But according to novelist and screenwriter Deborah Moggach, you haven’t seen the best unless you’ve seen the BBC’s newest Anne Frank mini-series. Of course we expect her to say that – she was responsible for the most recent adaptation for TV. And standing in front of an audience of 50 English PEN members in Foyles 3rd floor gallery, her passion for and knowledge of the subject almost made it seem as if we were being introduced to Anne and her family for the first time.
After bringing to attention the significance of Anne Frank to PEN, Deborah showed the audience the trailer for the TV show and immediately delved into the obstacles that arise when taking characters off of a page and bringing them into our TV screens. She felt a huge responsibility in reworking the classic journal and faced many issues: staying true to the characters, creating drama where there wasn’t necessarily drama, and dealing with a low budget and production issues with a limited amount of time. Over the course of the hour, she often drew comparisons to the other classic novel she adapted – Pride and Prejudice, which was nominated for a BAFTA for its screenplay.
Whilst Deborah faced difficulties with Pride and Prejudice, Anne Frank was a particularly daunting task because she was dealing with real people. She wanted to create an engaging TV drama but didn’t want to disrespect the memories of the Franks or van Daans. Speaking of Anne specifically she said “I didn’t want to make her a goody goody but I didn’t want to slag her off either. I wanted to show her warts and all.” In previous adaptations Anne has been somewhat sanctified, but Deborah shows us that, despite the circumstances, Anne really is just like any modern teenager – boy crazy, obsessed with her looks, and often critical of her mother – but she is also extremely vibrant and alive.
It comes as no surprise that Anne is the focus of the show, but Deborah wanted to show the emotional journeys of the others in the attic as well. She thought it vital to the show’s success that the viewers put themselves in the place of the characters and try to feel what they felt – the claustrophobia, the cherished privacy, and the uncertainty that came with not knowing that the war would soon be over.
There was no lack of emotional excitement, but there was very little actually happening at the time – the Franks and van Daans often sat in silence for hours, waiting for the office below to close. This was a huge hurdle in creating a TV drama and Deborah tackled the issue by embellishing conversations and shaping every episode to give each a theme. She sometimes had to focus on incidents that were somewhat trivial in Anne’s diary but with a little enhancement, helped create a compelling drama that would have viewers coming back for more. Some of her biggest challenges lay in the characters Margo and Edith, who were trickier to dramatize because they were so passive. Neither had the feistiness that Anne is known for.
By creating this new adaptation of Anne Frank, the BBC wanted to introduce the story of Anne Frank to a younger generation. Deborah stressed how important it was to her to have young people tuning in every night to see how Anne was getting along. She was proved successful when during the Q&A segment a mother announced that she and her 11-year-old daughter had watched Anne every night, and cried together long after the final episode.
As for the production – very little of the show was filmed in Amsterdam. The annex was replicated in a studio in the East End of London. Cast and crew were piled into the cramped space to give them the sense of what it must have been like for Anne and her family. Deborah hoped that this would allow actors to adequately convey the mood in the attic to viewers.
Although the show would only run for 5 half-hour episodes, Deborah thought it important to create the sense that time had passed. To create this effect, adult cast members were given shabbier clothes over the course of the 5 episodes. Each outfit that was a little more worn out was also a bit bigger to make it seem as if they had lost weight. The children received clothing that was more tattered and smaller, to show that they were growing.
Deborah concluded the evening by showing three moving clips from the series that demonstrated some of the issues that she had covered and then answering all questions from the audience with a great deal of enthusiasm.
With many thanks to Waitrose for providing the wine.
Report by Danielle McReynolds.
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/events/reportsonrecentevents/adaptingannefrank/