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!
I don’t think I could stomach watching it. I think I’ll watch the real thing with my daughter instead Thanksgiving night.
Jenna, I’ve been hearing a lot of that type of thought: I’d rather watch the 1986 movie!!!
Martin Sheen as Matthew? No! No! No! I started weeping as soon as I saw that picture.
He’s a good actor, but somehow not a fit for Matthew. Matthew should be almost wordless and do most of his acting through his face and body language. I look forward to the new 8 hour miniseries, which stars “Road to Avonlea’s” R.H. Thompson as Matthew. I think that should be a far better portrayal in terms of the extreme social awkwardness etc.
Marge Bennett says
I agree, Lorilee; nothing can compare with the Anne of Green Gables (movie) that “we” all know. It is/was just “one of those moments” in time, when that one was put together by our worthy artists and so many gifted people whose hearts were “right there”.
I’ll keep (and watch) our old stand-by, keepsake, emotion-filled, heart-warming “Anne” movie and enjoy each and every moment, “beholding ‘Anne’ ” as she is.
Loved hearing all your true-heart findings and endearments on this blog.
Marge & Jo
Marge, you are the sweetest. Yes, I will never throw away the VHS set of AOGG my dad got me for Christmas many years ago. Thanks for your kind words!
Mia White says
Haven’t seen it yet, but can’t wait to! I can’t say I’m as much of a purist about Anne as you, but you’re correct in that certain components should remain untouched. Can’t wait to check it out!
What did you think, Mia? I absolutely think all AOGG fans should watch it–if they aren’t too attached to the 1986 version, which most are! 🙂
I was kind of looking forward to it, but now I’m not so sure…. Maybe I’ll just dig out the old VHS tapes of Megan and Jonathan instead.
Amy, knowing you, I think you would be wise to dig up the old tapes instead! 🙂
First, you had me bust a gut over “Hold me. Hold me!” Second, thanks very much for this, because there is now no chance in the hot place that I’ll see it. I enjoy learning from others. Someone else (you) suffered for me, and I don’t take that lightly. For example, I saw “Me Before You” and considered it my bounden duty to tell others I’d taken the bullet for them and they didn’t have to see it. You’ve done the same for me with this, and I deeply appreciate it. (I finally know what it’s like when Mom lunges to clap hands over your eyes to prevent shocking images.)
I have a rather open mind to storyline deviations since screenplay adaptation is an art unto itself–keyword being “art”; but there is no art in flinging unnecessary scenes at a screenplay just to distance a new movie from an original, and from what I’m picking up, that seems to be the issue. Sounds like it devolved into becoming a remake of a remake, instead of an fresh interpretation of a beloved novel. I have no respect for that. (Martin Sheen notwithstanding–I love the guy, and he’s not to blame.) Example: LOVED the book “True Grit” by Charles Portis, and I love both film versions. Let me tell you, I was quite wary when the new version surfaced. But BOTH work. I love the latest one the best, since it is closer to the Shakesperian loveliness of Charles Portis’s work; but there is something quite winning about Kim Darby’s portrayal of Maddie in the first film, and what’s not to love about John Wayne and Glenn Campbell? Both films became unique classics of a classic work.
So I say–let us not despair over what appears to be a great disappointment to a film homage of LM’s beloved work; I believe other Divine Interpreters are out there, destined to create not a Kevin Sullivan work, but a unique work made seemingly from the breath of the original pages. I’ve seen it happen. I believe.
Meantime, thanks for taking the bullet, Lorilee. I shall gratefully amuse myself elsewhere!
Thank you for introducing me to “True Grit.” I will always love you for that.
i know it wasn’t completely accurate and maybe it doesn’t live up to the original. but i loved out nevertheless. it was good. clean. wholesome. literature based entertainment. The perfect way to end my Thanksgiving Day.
Barb, I am glad you liked it! Despite my hysterics, :), I liked some things about it too. We can’t all be purists about every line in the book!
Well now, I think the new Anne girl did okay considering her age and the fact that the movie is re-made from an older, much better version.
I cried over Gilbert’s character, that little boy did not fit the bill at all. He would have made a better Charlie, haha.
Matthew and Marilla did okay, again considering the timing of the film, but weren’t great.
Too many good things were skipped.
Not bad for a modern movie, but doesn’t hold a candle to the original.
Yes, the new Anne did a good job. It would be daunting to fill those shoes! I laughed at your Charlie comment! 🙂
I saw a trailer for the “New Anne” – the one where Matthew goes to get her from the train station. All I could think was, “No, No,NO!!! Matthew is shy and quiet, he is a gentle soul, not loud and talkative! Megan is Anne!! I can’t see anyone but her in the role, and no one can even touch Gilbert!! I couldn’t even bring myself to watch it after I saw the trailer – I read all the books, loved watching Anne on PBS….. I have even seen the original black and white movie… it was OK. But nothing touches the perfection Kevin Sullivan did….
Kris, they really did kind of mess around with the essence of Matthew, didn’t they? I am still looking forward to the 2017 CBC/Netflix miniseries. That one gives me hope!
Finally, a chance to read your review. My whole family and in-laws sat down to watch it Thanksgiving night, and they all enjoyed it. My in-laws had never seen the Megan Follows version before, and so were not tainted in anyway by this one. They came away, saying “that was cute.” I however, was less than exuberant about it. (By the way…How does one go through this life never having seen Anne of GG’s??!)
I agree w/ all of your thoughts. I think the young Anne was fine, and I think it was said before..she had big shoes to fill. Megan Follows is Anne for me and always will be. Gilbert, looked like he was 10 and needed to use less grease in his hair. Matthew didn’t seem frail at all. I kept thinking of West Wing, and couldn’t get past it.
The extra scenes drove me nuts, but only b/c I knew the story line and b/c of seeing the other one so many times. But, here’s my thought on that. They (the producers) wanted a “new” Anne and didn’t want to duplicate the first one w/ just new actors. They had to change it up some how, and thats probably why they did it. Stupid, to mix with something so good, but I understand.
I think the character that best fit the role? Mrs. Lind. She just had the right facial characteristics and tone.
The dialogue felt forced at times. I felt like I was watching a play occasionally where the actors knew their lines, but were waiting for their counter part to say theirs so they could say their next line. It was as if they weren’t actually in the moment, or living and breathing the character. I would say some scenes were better than others and had a better tempo overall, but I suppose that comes w/ being a younger actor and having less experience.
All in all, I’m happy to stay w/ the former version and have no reason to watch this one again.
Michelle, I love your response! I just can’t believe that a production with the blessing of LMM’s heirs would deviate so much! I feel like there were plenty of ways to distinguish themselves from the Megan/Jonathan movie without making stuff up! But then again, I am a violent purist on this topic! 🙂
Patrick Gallant says
I saw the trailers for the show and just the new Anne’s voice alone and delivery, had no warmth or emotion behind it, and Gilbert looked like someone she’d be babysitting. I could not watch it , and have the classic torn apart in my mind. My sister called while watching it and was loving it, but she’d never seen the original. I told her that once she sees the original, she’ll see how much better, and more memorable it is. I have watched the original first time with my mom, who fell in love with it, and at least 7 times since, and it never gets old. I even supported PBS TV so I could get the Anne of Green Gables doll to give to my mother for Christmas one year. She loved it. I have an Anne of Green Gables cook book with recipes from the story. I have a hardcover picture book with scenes from the movie, and found an early edition of the original book in my parents attic. I also bought the Anne of Green Gables Christmas Church with sleigh and characters, and trees , for me and my mom, and we both display it every Christmas. She has two Anne of Green Gable plates, and I have a poster of an artist’s rendition of Anne that is beautiful. Just the music from the original film , gives me a lump in my throat and moves me. The casting and acting was superb, the scenery being a major player in it’s beauty in the telling of the story. I dream someday , of spending a week or two going to all the locations that were in the movie following them in order of the telling of the story.
Drake Owen says
I really like Ella as a young Anne. She was fresh and delightful. Being a former elementary teacher of fifth and sixth graders, Ella would have been perfect in a middle school production. Of course Megan will always be our Anne. My daughter, Laura, fell in love with Anne and her stories. I remember our first trip to PEI and hearing Laura crying in the back seat of the car. I asked her what was the matter and she said Anne’s son just died in the war. My daughter is a red head and really identified with Anne. Of course as things go, I fell in love with Anne and her stories and would share them with my students. I’m rereading Anne of Green Gables again after watching the movie and taking my time and enjoying all the wonderful descriptions of nature on PEI and Anne’s love of it all. It is a wonderful world to get lost in. If I had a time machine, just maybe, I could find Anne on the red cliffs of PEI and chat with her for a while. Now that would be marvelous. Happy New Year.
I just watched the Ella Ballantine version over the last week and then I just found your blog, so I came by to read what you thought about it. I agree with you about the pros and cons. I’m just hoping, though, that the Good Stars (which I haven’t seen) might be better. It’s L.M. Montgomery’s granddaughter — I don’t know, I live in hopes. It can only get better, right?
… and I love Martin Sheen to pieces, but he was so talkative that I kept seeing President Jed Bartlet. >_<
Janice Chobaniuk says
I actually loved Anne she was sweet and plucky and a dreamer and this actress did a fine job. She captured Anne’s melodramatic tendencies extremely well. Marrilla was less severe than the one portrayed by Colleen Dewhurst. Although I think the original series was awesome I think we all love it more because it was the first really good adaptation of a beloved and iconic novel. It seems to me there were deviations in that movie as well. I took it at face value and found it fun and enjoyable and although it is not as poignant as the original it certainly was a lovely story to watch with young children. There is so little that is suitable these days. .