What is it about Gilbert Blythe that has prompted so many dreamy sighs over the last century and nine years?
Yes, we’ve loved him for no less than 109 years!
He may seem like a mild-mannered boy-next-door, without a lot of flash and drama, but it’s his stoic devotion that makes him complex and intriguing, intriguing enough to captivate us for eleven decades!
In our minds’ eye, Gilbert is crazy cute and crush-worthy. Impish. Adorable, but not overly so. For many, he is our ideal, the guy next to whom we compare all other guys.
Sure, he’s flirty (“Hey Carrots, Carrots!”). But there’s so much more.
Gilbert notices Anne for who she is: blazingly bright (never a popular trait for girls in Edwardian times), fearsomely clever and decidedly other.
Great balls of fire, readers! He loved her for her SOUL.
Somehow, he was drawn to Anne’s idiosyncratic qualities. Her quirks. Her perfect imperfections, if you will. And I will. He likes that she’s not like the other girls (sigh). He sees her vegetable-hued braids, her absurd vocabulary, her dreaminess and featherbrained ways, and he adores her for them.
Who among us doesn’t want to be noticed and adored for exactly who we are—pungent hair color, quirks, flaws and all?
Anne never had to hide her brokenness in front of Gilbert. And we long for someone with whom we don’t have to hide ours.
I believe in writing him Lucy Maud Montgomery created her ideal, and ours too. She gave Gilbert all those stellar qualities she never found in a man, not in her passionate relationship with farmer Herman Leard or her complicated and sometimes tortured marriage to Ewan MacDonald.
No doubt about it, our man Gil is hard to live up to. And when he is poorly cast, the whole production kind of crumples. Who among us hasn’t seen a woefully wrong Gilbert in a play and wanted to leave? I’ve seen productions of Anne of Green Gables where Anne is extremely well cast, but when the Gil actor cannot keep up with her that’s the beginning of the end for me. I wash my hands of the whole affair!
(I was thrilled, therefore, to see a fabulous actor embody Gil in the musical “Anne and Gilbert” in Charlottetown three summers ago! By the way, I think that newer musical is positively SCRUMMY, much better than the AOGG musical!)
So we’ve obviously come to Part 3 in my “Who Played it Best?” blog series. Two weeks ago I compared three cinematic Annes, giving Megan Follows my pick for best portrayal, while also recognizing the dazzling and authentic work of Amybeth McNulty. Last week, somewhat controversially, I picked my best Marilla: “Anne with an E’s” Geraldine James by a hair over the beloved Colleen Dewhurst.
This week we will compare three Gilberts, 1985’s Jonathan Crombie, 2016’s Drew Haytaoglu from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (who also stars in parts 2 and 3, as yet unaired in the USA), and Lucas Jade Zumann’s Gil in 2017’s “Anne with an E.”
Who played Gil best?
Full disclosure: I have no intention of picking anyone but Jonathan Crombie, but I do think this is a good discussion.
Pros: You know how I said LMM gave Gil all these amazing qualities she was looking for but had never found? Jonathan lived into them and up to them–indelibly.
In watching his portrayal, we realized that we shared Gil’s unpretentious dream of a home with a hearth-fire, a cat, a dog, and the footsteps of friends. We realized, like Anne, that our happiness was not to be found in diamonds and sunburst marble halls, but in true, abiding love. That became our dream, too. We wanted to find our own Gilbert Blythe. When he died of a brain hemorrhage two years ago, my website crashed because so many folks came by to mourn with me. He meant so much to so many people, and continues to give us flutters and elicit sighs everytime he looks at Anne with “inexpressible drollery.”
I have a friend who worked with JC in a day camp one summer when they were teens. She said he was just as sweet and funny and gallant as Gilbert. And you could tell. His very character shone through in his portrayal.
Cons: None, except that he might have been a bit old (18) to play Gilbert Blythe, which worked for college-aged Gil but not as well for young Gil, getting bonked with a slate. Gil was supposed to be about 13, 14 I think, in the book.
Drew Haytaoglu, L.M. Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’
Pros: Drew is cute and does a fine job with the limited script he’s been given.
Cons: This poor kid never stood a chance. Although I do like him better in the clips I watched of Part 2: The Good Stars, he just seems too young to be Gilbert, even though he is the right age. He looks younger than Anne (Ella Ballentine), and just doesn’t seem to possess the knightly quality a good Gilbert should have. Or maybe he does, but he doesn’t get the chance to show it off, with this skimpy, skippy script.
Lucas Jade Zumann, “Anne with an E”
Pros: I held my breath when I knew we’d be meeting Gilbert Blythe in Episode 2 or 3, but was almost instantly placated, and even captivated, by Lucas Zumann.
I wrote here:
“…kindred spirits, we can all collapse in relief (because a poorly cast Gil is an abomination). This young actor embodies Gilbert in a worthy fashion. He’s thoughtful but never brooding, quiet but not shy, perceptive, and charmingly gallant, a budding nobleman of Avonlea village.”
Lucas is truly a fantastic Gilbert for a new generation, with strong character, an easy, gentlemanly way about him, and a rueful smile that would melt a heart of stone (which he’ll need after calling Anne “Carrots”). He knows what he wants, and what he wants is a smart girl with whom he can discuss everything. Instead of having his male ego bruised by Anne’s triumphs in school, he seems to be thrilled with the competition, an “iron sharpening iron” relationship that makes him smarter, stronger, and better. I can’t wait to see where they go with Anne and Gil as they get older in the new series.
Cons: Not his fault, but I didn’t care for the way they made Gilbert an orphan. It seemed to take his character on an unnecessary detour.
The Best Gilbert goes to..
Jonathan Crombie. Honestly, if it were not for Jonathan Crombie’s portrayal, I would be 100% for Lucas. I AM 100% for Lucas, except that he’s not Jonathan, and therefore this contest is unwinnable!
What do you think? Who played Gil best and WHY? (It got a little tedious for 100 people to say “Colleen Dewhurst” was their best Marilla, but not say why…)
If you love to discuss ‘who played it best?’ Don’t miss my analysis of “Little Women” and who played Teddy and Professor Bhaer best!