Film Review: My Best Friend Anne Frank

Words: Hannah Clarke
Saturday 12 February 2022
reading time: min, words

This Dutch drama explores a new angle on a well-known story…


Director: Ben Sombogaart
Starring: Josephine Ardensen, Aiko Beemsterboer
Running time: 143 mins 

Five days after National Holocaust Day, Netflix released the historical drama My Best Friend Anne Frank, a harrowing story following the real-life friendship and tragic separation of Hannah Gosler (Ardensen) and Anne Frank (Beemsterboer) during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam in 1942.

The Dutch film tackles themes such as the importance of hope and the survival of friendship during the toughest of times. It flashes back and forth between life in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and the two families’ eventual imprisonment in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The stark contrast is shown through Stombogaart’s use of the soft, pastel colours of Amsterdam life, and the dark, bleak life in the camp. This isn’t a new technique by any means, but it’s effective in creating that very clear distinction, almost as if they have lived two different lives in one lifetime.

Offering a refreshing perspective of the famous Anne Frank story, the film is instead told from the viewpoint of Hannah, Anne’s best friend. The differences in their personalities shine through from the off. Anne is confident, talkative and likes to push the boundaries. She dreams of a future where she can travel the world as a famous actress or writer. Hannah, on the other hand, is a lot more timid and reserved, disinterested in normal teenage girl things, like boys and make-up, and wants to become a nurse. 

If you’re expecting a raw depiction of life during the Nazi occupation in the 1940s, this isn’t the film for that. We see fleeting snapshots of what Jewish people were subjected to at the time, but it’s very rarely shown openly. There’s gunfire in the distance and shouting off screen, but that’s about it. In some ways, the overarching plot is more about their survival of friendship, and so the overt depiction of violence is not that necessary; it’s easy for us today to infer what was happening.

There are some moments that do leave you feeling a little uncomfortable, and not in a good way. Anne’s confidence occasionally comes across as narcissism, culminating in an explosive argument with Hannah. Knowing Hannah is much more reserved, Anne teases her with a book about female anatomy, and, after asking Anne repeatedly to stop, Hannah lashes out. It’s not easy to watch.

There are glimpses of special moments, like the excellent performances from both leading stars

We all know Anne’s story and hold her in very high regard, yet her depiction in this film tends to leave you feeling a little uneasy. It’s important to show the tumultuous nature of friendship, but pushing it to this level felt a little unnecessary. I’m still not sure how to feel about it, as on one hand, this is Hannah’s account, but we must not forget that Anne was a real person and not a character, so to portray her as a narcissistic, bad friend feels wrong when she’s not alive to defend herself.

One of the only truly shocking moments that particularly stands out is when Nazi SS soldiers arrive at the Goslar home and order them to pack their things; they are being relocated to the camps. He desperately states that his wife is heavily pregnant and can’t travel, to which the guard proceeds to push her onto the bed and aggressively grope at her stomach. She cries out in agony. The soldier turns and spits in Mr Goslar’s face before leaving. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable watch and not something which you’ll forget in a hurry, but is one of the only moments of the film that still lingers with you after the credits.

The only other memorable moment is towards the end of the film when the girls are reunited for the last time in the camp. Both still cling to some form of hope. “We’ll all be liberated soon,” Anne whispers. They are both unaware that this will be the last time they speak. The performance from both girls in this final scene is beautiful to watch. Their subtle expressions as they stare at each other through the wall in a combination of love and disbelief is a real highlight. 

Overall, My Best Friend Anne Frank is a tragic story of hope and friendship that’s all the more sombre when you consider that it’s based on real life events. It’s a nice change to see the story of Anne Frank told from a different perspective, even if the majority of the film is a little slow and restrained. While this film will probably not go down as one of the greats, there are glimpses of special moments, like the excellent performances from both leading stars, but overall it’s not likely to leave a lasting impact.

Did you know? A National Geographic-helmed limited series about the story of the Dutch woman who sheltered Anne Frank’s family for two years and preserved her diary has been ordered by Disney+.

My Best Friend Anne Frank is available on Netflix

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