DVD Review - Anne Frank: The Whole Story | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, March 8th, 2021  

Anne Frank: The Whole Story

Studio: Kino Lorber

May 28, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

I first remember reading The Diary of a Young Girl in middle school. I had just finished Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, and had begun a deeper dive into the Holocaust than what could be achieved via the History Channel. That’s when I simultaneously discovered the classic 1959 Academy Award-winning film The Diary of Anne Frank, and the 2001 Emmy Award-winning made-for-television drama Anne Frank: The Whole Story. Being roughly twelve or thirteen at the time, I found more to relate and appreciate in the latter adaptation of Anne Frank’s final years, so that was the one I would champion the most going forward. Now an adult with a considerably greater knowledge of the subject and a wider appreciation of movies and the eras in which they were released, I feel I am now far more capable of understanding and critiquing this contribution made by director Robert Dornhelm.

In 1939, Anne Frank (Hannah Taylor-Gordon) witnesses the Nazis invade the Netherlands, remove her family’s rights, and force her to register as a Jew with the local government. She attempts to make the best of the changing world around her, including befriending Jacqueline van Maarsen (Victoria Anne Brown), and Hello Silberberg (Nicky Cantor), the latter of whom she develops a crush. After Anne receives her famous checkered-patterned diary for her 13th birthday, her sister Margot (Jessica Manley) is ordered to be deported to a German labor camp. Anne’s father Otto (Ben Kingsley) moves the Frank family into a secret annex behind his previously owned business, which they are joined by Hermann (Joachim Krol) and Auguste van Pels (Brenda Blethyn), their son Peter (Nicholas Audsley), and Fritz Pfeffer (Jan Niklas), a local dentist. Though successfully hiding for months, the families are eventually denounced, arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where Anne is separated from her father, infected with scabies, and deported with Margot to the Bergen-Belsen death camp. The remainder of the second half focuses on the slow and agonizing death of Anne and Margot, and an epilogue in 1945 where Otto Frank is the last surviving member of his family, and he receives Anne’s diary.

This was the first of the major adaptations of Anne Frank’s accounts that was not sanctioned by the Anne Frank Fonds, as it was piecemealed across several sources including “Melissa Müller's biography of Anne Frank and original research and interviews by Kirk Ellis. Some of the scenes in the film can also be found in Anne Frank, the Diary of a Young Girl, but the film does not use the words used in the Diary to express her feelings.” The series released in 2001 to near-universal critical acclaim, eleven Emmy Award nominations (of which it won Outstanding Miniseries and Outstanding Art Direction), three Golden Globe nominations, a Peabody Award, and has been declared as one of the best adaptations of Anne Frank’s life ever put to screen, despite the controversies surrounding some of the more dubious claims raised in the first part of the film (involving the individual who turned the Franks over to the Nazis). It was released to VHS and DVD by Buena Vista Home Entertainment in the same year.

Now Kino Lorber has taken the home distribution rights to this acclaimed work and released it again on DVD with absolutely no supplemental features besides the original theatrical trailer, and with conflicting aspect ratios (the menu is in 16:9 widescreen, while the film is in 4:3 fullscreen, requiring manual adjustments to whatever screen you are viewing). This may be the least impressive physical release from Kino Lorber in a long while.

Having said that, age has done a number of different things to Anne Frank: The Whole Story, some of them beneficial, others detrimental. While the film does its best to replicate the vibe of 1930s Germany in tandem with a thematic evolution throughout Anne’s growth, the film suffers from tonal whiplash between key scenes. We can often find ourselves flipping starkly from the starry-eyed attitude of a thirteen-year-old girl discovering who she is and her place in the world with the adult reality of mass genocide without an effective bridge. I didn’t have an issue with either attitude separately, and all of the scenes are adequately acted by the cast (with Taylor-Gordon’s performance in the latter half, and Kingsley’s final moments in the epilogue being the heart-wrenching standouts). However, when these sequences are connected back to back while being buttressed by out-of-place newsreel footage, it impresses less as a coming-of-age story headed toward destruction and more a sorry attempt at capturing the odd romanticism of 1930s-1940s filmmaking (even when at Bergen-Belsen), when it should have taken notes more out of the 1978 miniseries Holocaust.

Though I cannot fault this series completely for its choices, especially due to the medium in which it premiered and the restrictions placed on prime time television. These tonal imbalances and pacing issues were seemingly a common pitfall in early 2000s made-for-television programs in America dealing with World War II, most notably Nuremberg (2000) and Hitler: The Rise of Evil (2003). However, its use of language was the most frustrating, as there were no consistencies between the languages spoken or written in the movie; with German, Dutch, and English being used (sometimes apparently at random). While some projects like Schindler’s List (1993), and The Pianist (2002) make the alternative language choices work to their benefit, it simply seems sloppy here.

Having said all that, is the series as monumental as when it was first released? No. Is it as relatable as I remember it being? No -- nor should it. I was roughly the age of Anne when I first saw this work, and as it was geared to be primarily an evolutionary and emotional experience through the eyes of a young teen, so many of the design choices which struck a chord with the younger me have continued to make sense. Anne Frank: The Whole Story is bursting with passion for its subject matter, and a respectful attitude when approaching the real-life stories of all those present here. They even managed to not paint all the Nazis as sub-human demons when they were basically given all the ammunition to do so, so that care and restraint allows me to further respect the film and its makers. While certainly somewhat messily constructed and bridged, with a little too much emphasis placed on style, the film remains an entertaining and empathetic adaptation. Though it doesn’t fully warrant the asking price from Kino Lorber.



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