The latest adaptation of Anne of Green Gables premieres on PBS on Thanksgiving night. And while not a fantastic version of Montgomery’s beloved children’s novel, there is still enough appeal here to give the film a watch. Certainly, a younger audience might appreciate its youthful charm.
L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables focuses on the first half of the book, leaving much of the story unexplored. In fact, the entire film circles around the idea of whether or not the orphan Anne will stay at Green Gables with siblings Marilla and Matthew. It’s an odd creative choice but works from a character driven perspective if one were to see Marilla as the main character. Will Marilla adopt Anne? Or will they give Anne to another family? Certainly, what this TV movie explores is the relationship between Anne and Marilla (and Matthew to a lesser extent) and how Marilla changes throughout the course of the story.
Now, I would be remiss if I were not to bring up the ‘80s adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. The Sullivan adaptation likely will never be bested. However, that doesn’t mean other filmmakers shouldn’t have the opportunity to adapt Montgomery’s series with their own vision. I see film and TV adaptations of books not as “remakes” but rather as new interpretations. And I am open to them all.
So, while I went into the production with every intent to be as objective as possible, I admit it is near impossible not to make comparisons with the superior ‘80s adaptation. From the casting to the script to the production, Sullivan’s magical take on this classic story wins on every level. However, if we are to look at this new adaptation and only compare it to the book, what we have left is a cute film with good production quality, beautiful cinematography, and some nice moments. What we don’t have is a memorable adaptation of Anne of Green Gables.
Still, there are some positives. The film is entertaining to watch and I appreciated the decision to cast young actors in the roles more fitting to play 11-14 year-olds. There were a few scenes that brought back nostalgic memories of my girlhood days playing make-believe in the forest. So, in that sense, I appreciated the level of “pretend” and “imagination” displayed between Anne and Diana. The friendship and youthful joy displayed felt authentic. I was also pleased with the choice to show Diana as a reader. This is an aspect of Diana often overlooked – that she loves to read books. So, I was happy to see that translated to the screen.
I also enjoyed the characterization given Marilla and the performance from Sara Botsford. While not on the same level as Colleen Dewhurst’s iconic interpretation of the character, she still gives a lovely emotional performance.
As a whole, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is enjoyable to watch – especially to see the beautiful PEI scenery.
And as a whole, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is enjoyable to watch – especially to see the beautiful PEI scenery. It was also nice to see more of the farming aspects of the time period.
That said, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables does have some faults – which may turn some off the film altogether. Ella Ballentine as Anne, while mostly decent in the role, can at times become overwrought and melodramatic. I didn’t always believe her in the role. Sometimes she plays Anne with a cuteness that makes you smile and other times she plays Anne in a way that feels slightly unnatural. Still, she gives a mostly warm performance and has the potential to grow into the character if the filmmakers decide to continue with the series. On a side note, watch out for some odd makeup choices for Anne as well. Her freckles look like they were put on with eyeliner and don’t appear consistent throughout the film.
I was also slightly baffled by the casting of Gilbert Blythe. He doesn’t look like “Gilbert” to me and seems to be more the same age as Anne rather than a few years older. But he’s still adorable in his own way and I’m open to giving him a chance to grow into the role. Honestly, one letdown of this adaptation is that Gilbert is pretty much ignored. He’s only in a few scenes and the connection between Anne and Gilbert is almost entirely left out of the film. Yes, there is the famous slate scene. But it lacks that “meet cute” feel one would expect. In fact, I’m never quite sure if Anne is really all that mad at Gilbert for pulling her hair and making fun of its red color.
And then there’s Martin Sheen as Matthew Cuthbert. If you’re familiar with the books, then you’re aware that Matthew is an incredibly shy character. And while they attempt to show Matthew as shy simply by stating he doesn’t want to go be around people at a concert, he’s rather quite talkative and even extroverted at times. Sure, it’s Sheen so we know he can act, and yes, the character is likable, but is it Matthew from the books? No.
Another aspect of the production that hurts the overall quality is the rushed feel throughout. Scenes jump from one to the next without taking the time to really let us appreciate the story. Besides Anne, Marilla, and Matthew, the rest of the characters are mostly afterthoughts. Rachel Lynde sadly only appears to move certain parts of the story forward. Also lost is the magic of Avonlea and its small town charm.
Overall, while I enjoyed the film, for the most part, I didn’t fall in love with it. Still, if you’re a fan of the books or are looking for a fun story for the whole family to enjoy, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is a good choice! The TV movie is available to buy on DVD. You can also watch the movie premiere on PBS, November 24.
Have you seen this new adaptation of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
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