I tried to keep an open mind. I did! I didn’t want to be one of those people who will never accept any rendition of “Anne of Green Gables” other than the now thirty-year-old Kevin Sullivan miniseries.
It’s been well established here that I am crazy, wild, nuts for that rendition, as millions are. But I’m also a firm believer in the power of Anne’s story, and that a story so compelling and soul-touching should be told and retold by savvy storytellers all the wide world over.
This belief led to my own retelling of sorts, “Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter and Me,” an Anne-woven memoir that focused on Anne as an orphan and the orphan’s heart, my orphan’s heart and my girl’s.
And now my semi-open mind is being tested, by not one but two new television treatments of the story I love. (“Anne” will come out sometime in 2017 on the CBC and on Netflix in the US as an eight-part miniseries.)
First up is Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, which will premiere on US television on Thanksgiving night. I paid close attention to social media on the night it premiered in Anne’s native Canada last February, on Islander Day. Isn’t that a great name for a day off? Islander Day?
I have to say, the tweets I saw then were fairly negative, although folks did say their young girls liked it. People complained about the movie being off book, and also “young,” as in the actors playing Anne, Gilbert and Diana etc were actual children, not teenagers trying to skew a bit younger as in the case of Megan Followes and Jonathan Crombie. These complaints did not bode well for me, but I still tried to keep an open mind for one key reason: the film was made with the full cooperation of Kate Macdonald Butler, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s granddaughter. I mean, her GRANDDAUGHTER! In my mind, this woman is literary royalty. She would surely take the utmost care in protecting her grandmother’s legacy, would she not? WOULD SHE NOT???
Okay, before I dissolve into histrionics, let us begin on a positive note, shall we? SHALL WE?? (Okay, too late.)
5 Pros to LMM’s Anne of GG:
* The PEI scenery is resplendent. I swooned at the sight of red-dirt cliffs and white lighthouses and pewter-colored waves, beckoning, inviting, calling me…”Lorilee, come to us! Come now!” (Clearly, I need to get there again soon!)
* The film’s scenes in Green Gables were obviously shot in, well, Green Gables, not a duplicate soundstage. This definitely lent an authenticity to the whole affair which made my heart glad.
* More genuine touches: Anne’s one-room classroom with its union jack flag and Mr. Phillips leading the young scholars in ‘God Save the King,’ and Anne and Diana’s ramble down the real Lover’s Lane.
* Sara Botsford turns in a strong, subtle performance as the crusty yet not entirely un-kindred spirit Marilla. We watch her confusion (they were supposed to get a boy from the orphanage) turn to turmoil–should they keep Anne?–and then to fascination and tenderness. Botsford is well cast and adds her own shadings to the character. I don’t envy her trying to fill Colleen Dewhurst’s shoes. I don’t envy any of them!
* Ella Ballantine as Anne is also winning. Now, Megan fans, just you simmer down there! I know, I know. Megan is PERFECTION. But Ella is a younger Anne, and after all, Anne was eleven when she came to Green Gables. She’s sprightly and giggly and sad and vulnerable, and overall not a bad Anne, if you can get past the fact that she’s not Megan Followes. My eleven year old liked her as Anne, and I’m betting lots of other young girls will, too.
(Oh boy. Here we go….)
5 Cons to LMM’s Anne of GG
* Deviations from the book run amok like adjectives in Anne’s sentences. I mean, WHOA! Where do I start? Anne never milked cows (that I recall), but that’s nitpicky. But how about the vile Mrs. Barry, referring to Anne as “a scrumptious little apricot”??? I don’t think so.
* Medium Deviations from the book: Small matters can be overlooked, but it got under my skin when suddenly there was a social worker consulted on finding Anne a family. For my book, I researched orphans in Anne’s day, and believe me, there was no social worker, overworked or not, who gave a rat’s hind end about Anne’s welfare.
* (A pause for you, gentle reader, before things get a bit wild …)
* Martin Sheen is too handsome and talkative to be Matthew. His portrayal is well done because he’s a gifted actor. But Sheen’s Matthew is downright extroverted compared to dear, dear Richard Farnsworth’s Matthew.
* Gilbert. Sigh. Not a good sigh. Okay, I get it. This is Young AOGG. Gil is not going to be 18 and cute and my own age in real life (a 48-year-old Gilbert WOULD be creepy). But GREAT BALLS OF FIRE, this boy cast as Gilbert looks 12 at most, younger than Anne! Devotees of the book know that Gilbert was two or three years older than Anne. This actor is sweet and does a fine job of having a slate thwacked over his head, but ohhh…..sigh.
* GIGANTIC DEVIATIONS FROM THE BOOK: Forgive me, I am shouting. But the scene where Anne falls through the ice and Matthew saves her??? At this point, I was throwing things around the room. Never happened. Not even hinted at. Completely appliqued like a pumpkin patch on a sweater. Hold me. Hold me!
But the deviation that really made me lose it was this: Marilla puts the matter of whether to keep Anne or not on hold while somebody searches for a good family for her. This undermines the story in a reckless way. Anne was vulnerable, deeply so, and could have been shipped off to the orphanage again or handed over as a slave to Mrs. Blewett. There was no chance of a good family in Montreal to give her all she needed and then some. Introducing this construct may have served the 90 minute storytelling time, but it waters down the true darkness of Anne’s plight and therefore makes the whole story less powerful.
What do you guys think? Going to watch? Did you watch? Joys and concerns? Comment below for your chance to win an antique slate, just like the one Anne smashed over Gil’s head!