Anne of Green Gables, and … not

Green Gables
I’ve been posting a great deal more lately on the TV/movies side of the blog than here; I haven’t had a lot to say about what I’ve been reading: Anne McCaffrey and Jill Churchill.  I’m letting a couple of ideas marinate, but that’s not where I want to go right now.  Tonight Mom and I watched the rest of the CBC production of Anne of Green Gables, and the post goes here because I wrote about rereading – and needing to watch – Anne a little while ago.

Megan Follows is Anne.  She was 16 at the time of filming, playing Anne from 12 to 16, and she was brilliant.  For me the casting of Anne is an even more perilous decision than the casting of Frodo and Sam; they mean the world to me, but Anne … Anne is one of the most important people in my life.  So if they had failed here, it would have been colossal – and the success the casting directors and Megan Follows made of it is proportionately huge.

The rest of the cast does a truly beautiful job as well; in particular, Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth are pitch-perfect as Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert.  I sobbed at Matthew’s death; he is a quietly essential character, and his death is one thing that sets Anne apart from other “children’s” books – his death, and the choices and difficulties it brings, as well as the deep grief in and out of the book. The portrayal of all of this on film was perfect.  It hurt.  It’s supposed to.

Schuyler Grant hit exactly the right not-quite-dumb-brunette notes as Diana; Josie Pye was adequately hateful (though too much with Gilbert); Gilbert as played by Jonathan Crombie was lovely.  And I was content with everyone else, from Ruby Gillis to Miss Stacey (with an “e”).   (Though I’m puzzled as to Mrs. Allen being German…)

It’s remarkable how faithful the mini-series is to the book.  This was the other main criterion: casting Anne and staying true.  With everything else there was wiggle room, but there I would be completely unforgiving.  And they did a remarkable, beautiful job.  They got nearly everything in, if not quite in the book’s sequence, to the point that the only tiny complaint that I had was that Gilbert didn’t pick up a rose lost from Anne’s hair at the recitation.  (Oh, and Anne didn’t say “Oh, Mr. Cuthbert!  Oh, Mr. Cuthbert!  Oh, Mr. Cuthbert!”  I missed it.)  I’ve read the book many, many times, and (obviously) recently, and I was happy about the whole production: it’s one of the most perfect adaptations of a book I’ve ever seen.

Which makes it all the harder to accept the garbage that followed.  “Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel” is, as far as I remember and as far as I can tell from the descriptions, faithful to parts of Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, and I think Anne of Windy Poplars, and a worthy second adaptation … But it is followed by “The Continuing Story”, during the making of which Kevin Sullivan apparently lost his mind and about which I can only say something of which Marilla would deeply disapprove: WTF?? This is “a television miniseries whose script was very loosely based upon the novels”.  Um.  Beg pardon, but for something to be even loosely based upon something else, it has to bear some glancing resemblance to the original source material. This, apparently, doesn’t.  I believe we watched it – which may be one reason we haven’t watched any of this again for about ten years; we were too scarred.

From Wikipedia:

It borrowed characters from the Anne of Green Gables novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery but not actual plot lines. Instead it served as a sequel to two mini-series produced by CBC Television in the 1980s. It was the most controversial and heavily criticized of the three film adaptations written and produced by Kevin Sullivan.

The miniseries was criticized principally because unlike the 1985 Anne of Green Gables and its 1987 sequel Anne of Avonlea, the screenplay was not based upon Montgomery’s works, but instead used Montgomery’s much-loved characters in a wholly original World War I story by Sullivan and Laurie Pearson. Montgomery had written an Anne novel set in that same period, Rilla of Ingleside, a story focusing on Anne’s youngest daughter, and in which Anne was a mother whose three sons were fighting in Europe. The new storyline places a childless Anne in the role of a woman on a quest to find her husband, Gilbert Blythe, who becomes a doctor and disappears behind enemy lines.

The film was also criticised for introducing a continuity problem. Following Colleen Dewhurst’s death in 1991, Marilla Cuthbert’s death was written into the series Road to Avonlea. At Marilla’s funeral, Hetty King refers to Gilbert and Anne Blythe; some viewers assumed they were married. Anne does not appear in the Avonlea episode because she is sick with scarlet fever. In ANNE: the Continuing Story, which takes place five years later, it is revealed that Anne had scarlet fever while she was teaching at an orphanage in Nova Scotia.

I … don’t even know where to start.  She – – dead – – scarlet fever – – enemy lines??  Nova Scotia??  Childless???  What?

And – if they’re referred to as “Gilbert and Anne Blythe”, isn’t it somewhere beyond the level of “assumption” that they’re married??

From Netflix:

In director Kevin Sullivan’s third movie based on the books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne Shirley (Megan Follows) leaves her beloved Prince Edward Island behind and heads to New York with her true love, Gilbert Blythe (Jonathan Crombie). But soon World War I interferes with their new life and sends Anne on an adventure she never anticipated.

Holy crap. New flipping York?? Did anyone get the plate number of the truck that apparently hit Kevin Sullivan and left him with severe head trauma? It’s the only explanation I can think of for such a drastic change in attitude.

And it gets worse. I hadn’t seen this until now, and I wish I hadn’t. The flack that came from that nonsense apparently taught them nothing, and last year they proceeded to make a fourth … thing: “A New Beginning”. Uh oh.

Anne, now a middle-aged woman, is troubled by recent events in her life. Her husband, Gilbert, has been killed overseas as a medical doctor during World War II. Her two daughters are preoccupied with their own young families and her adopted son Dominic has yet to return from the war. When a long-hidden secret is discovered under the floorboards at Green Gables, Anne retreats into her memories to relive her troubled early years prior to arriving as an orphan at Green Gables and being adopted by the Cuthberts.

The impact of this difficult period has a far-reaching effect on this older woman, once she discovers the truth about her real parents. She begins a delicate search for her birth father. It is a journey through a past fraught with danger, uncertainty, heartache and joy. In the parade of humanity Anne encounters she also faces the root of her desire to find true “kindred spirits”, an inspired imagination and the impetus to use her talents as a writer to inspire others.

He – killed?  What??  WWII??  Two daughters and who the hell is Dominic?  Search for who now? Danger?  WHAT???

And, not that this even compares to the rest of it, but in the cast list I find:

Josie Pye marry Moody Spurgeon?  As if!!

A poor adaptation is one thing – this … I can’t even think. Words like “travesty” and “abomination” and “tar and feathers” come to mind.

I feel sick.

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6 Responses to Anne of Green Gables, and … not

  1. accountantgrrl says:

    I know exactly what you mean. When I watched “The Continuing Story”, I was completely confused.

  2. Nelly says:

    I knew I couldn’t be the only person horrified at the “artistic license” (barf, barf) taken by the makers of The Continuing Story and of A New Beginning. I, too, loved the first 2 Anne movies; I thought (aside from a few story details being changed) that they struck just the right tone and that Megan Follows was just about the most wonderful Anne anyone could dream up. I was first introduced to the story of Anne by my fourth grade teacher, who began reading it to us on rainy afternoons to keep us quiet. She only got a few chapters into the book, but luckily my parents let me order my very own copy (does anyone remember being able to order books through “Scholastic Books”? This was late 70s/early 80s in Toronto). I devoured the book over one weekend, and it has made such a lasting impression on me. I remember lines of dialogue and turns of phrase to this day. I get just as much joy out of re-reading it now. I gradually made my way through all the Anne books and although I sometimes wonder what might have happened to Anne and her family after WWI, I much prefer to leave that to my imagination than to swallow the garbage of those fake, made up stories which are so disrespectful of the original story and characters. I’m not talking about putting a character in a red dress when she wore a brown one in the book; I’m talking about MAKING CRAP UP. It is not to be borne. Ugh. Whew; I feel better! Thanks for letting me vent.

  3. Kirstin says:

    I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone. I can’t find the original sources, but this website cites these as quotes from Sullivan,

    “He found this niche by planning to create an adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. At first, Sullivan had a hard time reconnecting with the work. “Montgomery made such a great impression when I was in grade 5, but the feelings were almost impenetrable to me as an adult when I reread her books. It was almost like looking at an antique, and I was frankly disappointed. But when I dug deeper, I found those emotions again (Hart, 3).””

    ” “I can remember being asked whether I wanted to do an Anne of Green Gables series,” Sullivan recalled, “and I said absolutely not (Boone, 93, E.6).” Sullivan wanted to move beyond the works of Montgomery and was not originally keen on producing a television series based on her works.”

    “There were considerations for creating a continuing series for Anne of Green Gables, but Sullivan felt that they “might have exhausted the dramatic possibilities” of Anne Shirley’s story (Walker, S.4); and according to one Toronto Star article: Anne was not very interesting once she had grown up (Bawden, SW.4). He would later describe the [Road to Avonlea] as a “montage of pieces” from Montgomery’s novel. “She was very good at creating atmosphere and character,”’ Sullivan said of the author. “But she was kind of lousy on story, to be honest (Boone, D.1).” He also felt that her works after Anne of Green Gables were “uneven” and “soapish as far as plot went (Bawden, SW.4).””

    So there we are: Anne is not interesting as a grown up, Montgomery is lousy on story and her plots are “soapish.” At least no one tried to persuade this joker to make “The Blue Castle.” Hopefully the CBC will have enough sense to ask a *fan* of the source material direct any further adaptations of Montgomery works. I’m soothing my disappointment by imagining what Miss Cornelia would make of Kevin Sullivan. ;0)

  4. stewartry says:

    Thank you for the comment!

    they “might have exhausted the dramatic possibilities” of Anne Shirley’s story – Sure. The beginnings of a marriage, loss of a child, and Captain Jim are utterly barren of dramatic possibilities, and heaven knows there’s nothing to be said about WWI. What a … (*tries to think of non-four-letter Montgomerian name to call him*) cur.

    Good grief, I never even thought about him touching “The Blue Castle”. I’d have either had to forgive him or take a contract out on his life – that’s my favorite.

    I’m soothing my disappointment by imagining what Miss Cornelia would make of Kevin Sullivan. – – I LOVE this. He wouldn’t stand a chance.

  5. I’m absolutely in agreement with you. Continuing Story and New Beginning…*shudders* In fact, ever since seeing Continuing Story I have refused to watch New Beginning at all.

    However, I’ve read every single book in the series several times and I still enjoy Green Gables and Avonlea (as “The Sequel” was called for over a decade…I’m not sure why they felt a need to change that). In that installment, they did edit it down a great deal, but I believe it was mostly so they could include as much of the whole story as possible. I also find it “a worthy second adaptation”, if not as good of story as the books.

    I would love to see them make another miniseries or even a full television series. There’s certainly enough material, but I’m also afraid nobody could ever live up to the standard Megan Follows and the other amazing talent set in Green Gables and Avonlea.

    There is also a 1930’s B&W films I’ve seen which was pretty ridiculous…Diana was platinum blonde, among other things.

    It might seem silly, but I actually quite enjoy this Japanese animated version. XD It’s actually quite true to the first book and I LOVE this director’s work, everything he does is beautiful.

  6. stewartry says:

    I’m going to have to try that Japanese version – I’ve heard good things. I love the fact that the Japanese have such a love affair with Anne.

    There is – or was? – supposed to be a new series coming out – It is – or was – supposed to be a modernized telling (*shudder*), produced with the blessings of the Montgomery estate. Problem is, I’ve just been all through the website of the company that was supposed to be behind it, Breakthrough Entertainment, and there is nothing at all about the project there. Even the press release the wiki above replicated is gone. So … I guess that’s deceased.

    However, in looking for that I did find this, about a new musical film:

    My theory, which I’m sure I mentioned somewhere in my very long ranting about the Sullivan films, is that producers, directors, just about everyone involved in multi-part franchises loses their minds on the third part. Heaven knows it’s true of Peter Jackson. The first installment is beautiful, wonderful, all sorts of lovely; the second has problems but is still watchable; the third is a horrendous train wreck that indicates severe mental decay. Anything after the third – say, The Hobbit, or “The Continuing Story”, is pure raving.

    Thank you for leaving a comment!

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