Anne of Avonlea (BBC)

Anne of Avonlea  (TV mini-series 1975)

Director: Joan Craft
Writers:  Lucy Maud Montgomery (novel), Elaine Morgan (adaptation)

I guess I never looked very hard for other Annes than the Kevin Sullivan/Megan Follows, because I never knew this version existed.  I’ve seen the first three episodes, with the rest next in the Netflix queue.

I yo-yo wildly on this, from “Oh, no no no” to “Nice!”.  I believe on the whole I like it quite a bit, mostly: the short version is that it’s extremely faithful and the actors are, while not spectacular, growing on me, once the strangeness wears off.  There are “howevers”, however.

There was apparently an “Anne of Green Gables” prior to this (1972) – there would have to be, wouldn’t there?  But according to imdb it is considered “lost”.  Pity … How lovely if it turns up one day.  That would be why I’ve never heard of that, though…

My original main problem with the mini-series is the accents.  (There’s another main problem which was slower to develop; I’ll come back to it.)  I thought I had a fairly good ear, but these accents baffle it.  I know Newfoundland, and Ontario, and even Montreal pretty well, but this is … odd.  Anne and Marilla, at least, say the Scots “ennathin'” for “anything”, and Anne drops her G’s like maple leaves in autumn, which makes my hair stand on end just a bit.  I can’t believe that of Anne.  Dora sounds Very British, while Davy sounds much less so, but while he’s more “Canadianish” or “Americanish” than others he definitely isn’t Canadian or American.

Ah – I didn’t see anything on the Netflix sleeve and didn’t look too hard beyond that to indicate where this was made; my assumption, oddly I suppose, was Canada.  It wasn’t: it was a British mini-series, for the BBC.  Which makes all kinds of sense, suddenly.  I’ve long been astonished at Brits’ appalling American accents in shows, particularly from the 70’s and 80’s, like PBS’s Mystery! – that’s where it has struck me the most.  There can be a very nice Holmes or Agatha Christie – or Lord Peter – with the most absurd pretend American plopped in the middle … Well.  That’s pretty much what Anne is, only they’re trying to be Canadian, and apparently to be Canadian one drops one’s G’s.   (I write this bearing in mind just how pitiful faux-Brit accents must sound to *them*, of course!  But … dear lord, some of the Mystery! accents have given me the grues.)

My main delight in this series is the faithfulness to the books.  Almost everything is in here, from the fireworks in the stove to Davy’s Indian headdress to the echoes at Echo Lodge, and that’s wonderful; anything missing isn’t missed (except for the Allans, and they are, admittedly, not prominent in AofA).  I loved the beginning of the Megan Follows Anne, but it’s around this point in the Kevin Sullivan films that the rot begins to set in.  Miss Lavendar is one of my favorite characters in the Anne books, and it’s great fun to “meet” her here; I’m pleased, so far, with her and Charlotta the Fourth.

“Now laugh, Charlotta. . .laugh loudly.”
Charlotta, who would probably have obeyed if Miss Lavendar had told her to stand on her head, climbed upon the stone bench and laughed loud and heartily. Back came the echoes, as if a host of pixy people were mimicking her laughter in the purple woodlands and along the fir-fringed points.
“People always admire my echoes very much,” said Miss Lavendar, as if the echoes were her personal property. “I love them myself. They are very good company. . .with a little pretending. On calm evenings Charlotta the Fourth and I often sit out here and amuse ourselves with them. Charlotta, take back the horn and hang it carefully in its place.”

“But Miss Lavendar Lewis is hardly a spellbound princess,” laughed Diana. “She’s an old maid. . .she’s forty-five and quite gray, I’ve heard.”  Forty-five.  Oh dear.  There’s one of the problems with continuing to reread a book beloved in childhood.

Sadly, another of my favorite characters, Paul Irving, is not served so well here.  I never thought I’d see the day when I’d prefer Davy to Paul, but … Nicholas Lyndhurst (who looks extremely familiar, I suppose from his turn, years after, as Uriah Heep in the David Copperfield with (Worlds Colliding) Daniel Radcliffe and Alun Armstrong) is purely wonderful as Davy.  For a boy of 13 it’s pretty remarkable that he did one of the best jobs at the accent, as well as turning in a very sweet limb-of-Satan-who-just-needs-love performance.  Davy, never someone very dear to me in the books, is one of the things I love best about this mini-series – the little flax-haired hellion one minute and the next utterly irresistible.  I love him (especially when he says, as he’s supposed to, “I want to know!”).  While Paul, played by Keith Steven … Put it this way.  From a quick internet search, Master Steven did not continue in acting (film, at least), and that may be just as well.  I think it would take an extremely special – not to say mildly spectacular – young actor to be able to pull off the young poet-dreamer Paul Irving.  This performance just makes me feel a little uncomfortable.  He is, I think, older than he ought to be, which doesn’t help – and the scene of him creeping through the undergrowth watching Anne on her picnic with Davy and Dora was a terrible idea.  I find myself completely on Davy’s side.
It doesn’t seem as though they make any effort at all to present Davy and Dora as twins, which is wise; they work very nicely here as simply brother and sister, very close and very, very different.  They’re older than they ought to be – they’re six at the beginning of the book – but it doesn’t trouble me; the characters are undamaged.  Dora is supposed to be prim and proper and ladylike, and wee Annabelle Lanyon delivers.  She’s lovely, despite the inexplicable (plotwise) accent.

The rest of the more minor characters:

I wouldn’t have remembered Barbara Shaw if I’d been asked, but Simone Krieger does a nice job with what she’s given, and suddenly the klutzy hapless Barbara comes back to me.  Ian Allis as Anthony Pye is genuinely threatening early on – and seeing the performances drives it home that Anne is only a little older than he is, and he’s much, much bigger; it’s a little scarier on film than in the book, maybe because of a 21st-century outlook.  And then of course after his 180-degree turn he’s adorable – poor confused Anne.  A quick skim of the book indicates that he’s much older than he ought to be, but it works.

I got a chuckle out of the line near the beginning where Mrs. Lynde ascribes all of Mr. Harrison’s oddities to his being a New Brunswick man – partly because it’s funny, and partly because that accent is so not NB.  I’m not sure about the take on some of the scenes, now that I’m reading the text online; the bit with the walnut cake was awkward, for example: Anne might have stooped to bribery, but it somehow wasn’t so blatant.  His was one of the most wildly unusual accents.  And I do not like that Anne was at his house during the great storm – hair down and drying, wearing his trousers (complete with suspenders).  No.  No, no, no.  Absolutely not.

They made Jane into a fairly well-rounded person, if seldom seen, but injected her into some odd scenes and gave her some odd lines; for something that tried to get everything in they made some peculiar changes (e.g. – to Gilbert regarding “mortally offending” both her and Anne over the subject of corporal punishment).

Charlie … Ick.

Diana (Jan Francis) should not be a minor character, but she is.  I hated the line they gave her about Anne’s Dolly being related to the cow that jumped over the moon – it sounded bogus, and lo and behold it is.   Still, she’s sweet and pretty (if too slender) and a nice actress; she’ll do.  Fred Wright, though… Blegh.  Sorry.  I do not want my Diana married to that person.

I don’t much like Gilbert (Christopher Blake), either.  He seems an awful stick, more bent on reforming Anne of her dreamy ways than on loving her for what she is.  In the book, he and Anne together wrote the Avonlea Notes – he was her pal, her dear friend, her comrade.  That’s how she could love him.  This stiff isn’t someone the Real Anne would bother with.

Anne had no sooner uttered the phrase, “home o’dreams,” than it captivated her fancy and she immediately began the erection of one of her own. It was, of course, tenanted by an ideal master, dark, proud, and melancholy; but oddly enough, Gilbert Blythe persisted in hanging about too, helping her arrange pictures, lay out gardens, and accomplish sundry other tasks which a proud and melancholy hero evidently considered beneath his dignity. Anne tried to banish Gilbert’s image from her castle in Spain but, somehow, he went on being there, so Anne, being in a hurry, gave up the attempt and pursued her aerial architecture with such success that her “home o’dreams” was built and furnished before Diana spoke again.

Mrs. Rachel Lynde (Madge Ryan) is, like the rest of the production, a combination of pretty great and pretty awful.  She’s natural (except for, you know, the accent), and she’s made me laugh out loud, but … She called Marilla “Mariller” a few times.  She “pffft”ed a few times; that’s not very ladylike.  But she does a nice job as the Town Crier best friend to Marilla; she’s not perfect, but she’ll do.

My first thought on seeing Marilla (Barbara Hamilton) was “there’s no way Marilla should have a double chin”.  Sorry, but it’s true – Marilla ought to be angular and rail-thin.  But after a little while, it really doesn’t matter.  She’s the other best thing about this mini-series – she’s wonderful.  She’s utterly deadpan, but there’s a sense of humor in there (thanks to the years with Anne).  And she does know her Anne.  I’m very fond of this Marilla.

The latter two play off each other very well –

Mrs. Lynde: You’ve only got to see the spoony way she looks at him to see what’s up…
Marilla: Spoony, indeed.  Good heavens above, I’ve seen her look like that at a bunch of violets.  You don’t understand that girl, Rachel, and you never will
Mrs. Lynde: I won’t argue, Marilla – but there’s others sweet on Gilbert besides Anne.  Ruby Gillis for one.
Marilla (scoffing): Ruby Gillis.
Mrs. Lynde: Well, she doesn’t have to be told the difference between a young man and a bunch of violets!


Mrs. Lynde: He could be burying dead bodies under the flagstones for all we know.
Marilla: Not unless he brought them with him.  Nobody around here has been missed.

– These are exchanges not in the book, though the sweet-on-Gilbert is distantly related to text.  These I liked.

And as for Anne herself (Kim Braden) … She’s the largest reason why I yo-yo on this.  I really like her – except when I don’t.  She looks the part.  Every now and then there’s a moment when her eyes light up and she looks just about right … but then she’ll deliver something akin to one of Anne’s lines and drops every “g” and between the accent and the tone it doesn’t ring true.  I begin to suspect that it’s just as well that I can’t watch the AoGG miniseries; I have the feeling that the extreme precociousness of Kim Braden’s Anne might get on every last nerve I own.  Megan Follows hit all the right notes as young Anne, but I don’t have that kind of faith in Kim Braden.  She overdoes, overplays.  And she says things like “uh huh”, which is – rather like Rachel’s snorting – not ladylike, not something that she would do.

Obviously, there were a number of changes from the book; there will be, any time a book is adapted.  I get that.  Some were nicely done – BBC!Anne’s spiel to Marilla about one of her students becoming prime minister was taken from the book’s very first page, Anne’s reverie as she sits with her Virgil in her hand, just before Mr. Harrison comes storming in (“Anne had certain rose-tinted ideals of what a teacher might accomplish if she only went the right way about it”).  BBC!Anne didn’t know Mr. Harrison; Anne did – but it makes sense in the film for it to be that way, as his introduction to her becomes an introduction to the viewer as well.  Davy’s “apology” to Rachel was awesome, even though it was new – it was an excellent piece of filling-in, of shorthanding his whole character.

Anne: I can’t imagine what’s keeping them, Mrs. Lynde, but Davy will apologize as soon as he comes in.  I had a long talk with him last night, and told him that he must.
Mrs. Lynde: Well I hope you haven’t coached him, that’s all.
Anne: What do you mean?
Mrs. Lynde: I remember the time you apologized to me like it was yesterday.  And if Davy’s going in for that style of speech it’ll have to wait till tomorrow.  I have to be home in an hour.
Anne: Oh, there’s the gate – that must be them –
Marilla: Don’t prompt him, Anne.  See if he’ll do it of his own accord.
Dora: That woman’s here!  You’d better do it now!
Davy: Mrs. Lynde?
Mrs. Lynde: Yes, Davy.
Davy: Anne said bossy people don’t like other people sayin’ they’re bossy.  So I’m sorry I said you was bossy.  And there’s another thing I might as well say sorry about now before somebody tells me to.
Anne (aghast): What’s that, Davy …
Davy: Sorry I been bleedin’ all over your dress.

Also not in the book was the whole situation of Davy and Dora being so afraid that they were an imposition on Anne and Marilla, and Davy’s attempt at running away to work in a salmon cannery in Nova Scotia.  That was a really wonderful scene, although I don’t really understand the emphasis throughout on the shortage of money; the real Green Gables wasn’t well off, but its denizens weren’t scrimping and scraping, either.

Marilla’s longing for Matthew was a beautiful touch – not so explicit in the book (I believe it’s original to the screenplay).  Brilliant.

People talk about widows.  Funny – there’s no name like that for losing your brother.  Yet with a husband chances are you’ve only had him half your life.  Matthew and I had never been separated more than a week from the day I was born.

In the Other Version, a terrible number of Mr. Harrison’s lines were given to Mrs. Rachel (as Mr. H was excised entirely) – which is just Wrong.  One that wasn’t so bad: “from center to circumference”, which I need to remember.  One that was: “red-headed snippet”.  The BBC version reassigned one of my favorite lines to Marilla: “If you went to your own room at midnight, locked the door, pulled down the blind, and sneezed, Mrs. Lynde would ask you the next day how your cold was!” – only they didn’t get it right: “You could go to bed at midnight, draw the curtains, lock the door, sneeze, and the next day Rachel would be on your doorstep askin’ how your cold was.”  Besides just the dropped “g” (they really do bug me), the change to that, though minor, makes it less.

They did that rather a lot in this.  It was odd to me that Jane was invited to the luncheon for Mrs. Morgan, and even odder that Mrs. Lynde barged in.  It should have been Miss Stacy (not in the film) and the Allans (ditto); I’m a little fuzzy on why anyone else had to be added at all, except to accentuate Anne’s humiliation.

Davy had finished ravelling out his herring net and had wound the twine into a ball. Then he had gone into the pantry to put it up on the shelf above the table, where he already kept a score or so of similar balls, which, so far as could be discovered, served no useful purpose save to yield the joy of possession.

– The use of that and the sugar in the peas was well done.

One thing that was strange was the tying of the timeline into interesting knots.  Thomas Lynde’s death, Paul’s father, quite a few other bits came out of order.  Avonlea Notes and the storm and the arrival of Mrs. Harrison – the chronology was utterly off.

One of the changes I did not like – at all – and which is a prime example of what I don’t like about the whole project is the story of Hester Grey.

Anne (pointing): Look!  There’s the little dell where Hester Grey used to live.  Remember tellin’ me about her?  How she died so young, and her grief-stricken husband carried her out into the garden so she could die among the roses?
Diana: I remember.  It was the same day I fell headfirst into the rain barrel.
Anne (dreamily): I believe her husband’s spirit is hovering there this very minute – over the garden where he buried his beautiful young bride.
Diana: No, Anne, it can’t be.
Anne: Oh, Diana, you just have no imagination – how can you possibly be sure that it can’t be?
Diana: Because he sold up and moved to Boston. He keeps a butcher’s shop there.
Anne: Oh.

While I admit I chuckled the first time I saw it … that is a travesty.  The real story is in Chapter 13 of the book, as the girls – Anne and Diana and Priscilla and Jane – go off on a picnic and stumble on the narcissi of the Grey farm; Diana tells the tale.  And Hester becomes a posthumous kindred spirit to Anne, who makes a habit of leaving roses on the young bride’s grave when she visits Matthew’s.  It’s a beautiful part of the Anne story – and I hate what these folk did to it.

Some few of the additions in the screenplay were good, as I’ve noted above – but too many weren’t, like the Hester Grey.  In several places they tried to smooth the surface and match the paint where they had to patch holes between areas that are true to the text.  They try to match the tone of the book, try to make Anne sound like Anne – and they fail; it falls quite flat when the words are not L.M. Montgomery’s.   One example is Anne’s impassioned speech about having the hall painted; that didn’t sound like Anne.  It sounded silly.

The other main problem I referred to earlier is that all throughout the series people smile at and roll their eyes at and make fun of Anne’s … Anneishness.  Even Gilbert, as above; his attitude is very much that of a superior adult trying to curb the excesses of a child.  Patronizing.  Even Diana quashes her.  Ruby says at one A.V.I.S. meeting “She’s off again”.  She’s a nasty little piece of work, that one – which is actually about right; this is Ruby Gillis I’m talking about.  Angling for Gilbert, then committing about six kinds of sexual harassment on poor Joshua Pye.  But the problem is that the marked lack of respect on every side for Anne is that it pretty effectively makes the whole story a farce.  Anne goes from being a beautiful spirit with a poetic soul and a large vocabulary to being a laughing-stock.  And maybe she was in the book as well – but in the book she was surrounded by people who loved her for her Anneishness: Marilla, and Diana, and Miss Stacy and the Allans, and Gilbert especially; even Mrs. Lynde.  None of them in the book would have wanted to change a word of her vocabulary or a single bubble of her dreaming.  On first watching it I wasn’t extremely bothered by all of this… But the more I think about it the more it devalues the whole thing.

Too, the accent – yes, it really, really does bother me – just strikes me as condescending.  It’s something that took a minute to pin down, but now that I have it bothers me more and more.  Once it became crystalline that those were put-on accents (I know – but I didn’t twig to it right away.  Sorry: stupid), it began to feel more and more as if the direction for the actors was to portray their characters as hicks, entirely lacking in any sophistication or class or education.  And while the folk of L.M. Montgomery’s Avonlea were farm folk, and many weren’t so very well educated, still the women were expected to be ladies, and to behave as such, and keenly conscious of class.  This felt like Brits telling a cute little rustic story set in one of the primitive colonies.  Lack of respect for PEI, of Avonlea, and of Anne – I don’t like it.   It’s one thing the whatshisname AoGG had: it gave every appearance of being a labor of love.  I don’t know what gave birth to this..

(Also, Mrs. Lynde did not make a snarky remark about Marilla’s black cloak on her way back from the twins’ mother’s funeral – “There she is comin’ back from the funeral – she’s got the same black cape she wore for Matthew’s and she’d had it 15 years then”.  That’s … mean.)

I was going to say that this mini-series would be fine for someone who did not know and love the books… But then again, part of the attraction of the mini-series is the parts that are faithful.  So I don’t know; it’s not, imho, for the diehard Anne-lover, the kindred spirit, but then again it’s not for the stranger to Avonlea.  Maybe it’s for someone who has read the books but doesn’t care about that world … except then why would that person be watching?  It is a conundrum.

Well, shut the front door – imdb:  “David Troughton  …  Jonas Blake”.  We haven’t had Jonas Blake yet, have we??  Oh – no, next disc: episodes 1.5 & 6.  Excellent.

Continuing the When Worlds Collide motif, Kim Braden was two characters in Star Trek: TNG – in 1994 in Star Trek: Generations she played Elise Picard, Jean-Luc’s alternate-dimensional wife (a bell just went off); in the series in ’90 in “The Loss” she was Ensign Janet Brooks.  What fun.  I’ll have to try to remember this when I one day watch again.

Postscript: It bothers me inordinately that belongs to Kevin Sullivan.  Though Anne of Green Gables was wonderful, after what he did to the rest of the books, that isn’t right.

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14 Responses to Anne of Avonlea (BBC)

  1. stevi says:

    Thanks for the detailed review. I love Anne, and watched the version with Megan Follows when I was a kid, so I was definitely intrigued to see what this alternate version is like. Think I’ll give it a skip though, if it’s that terrible.

    I agree with your assessment of Americans/Canadians portrayed by the BBC. The accents are usually awful, and the writing is often condescending. There are exceptions, but as a rule, anything produced by the BBC isn’t likely to do justice to an American or Canadian story. I’m sure this goes both ways, but it’s frustrating.

  2. stewartry says:

    It wasn’t horrendous … It just wasn’t what it could have been. Marilla was good, and Davy, and for them I’m glad I watched it. I would love to see the perfect Gilbert someday.

    Thank you for the comment! If you do end up watching it, do let me know what you think.

  3. Pingback: Nicholas Lyndhurst talks about OFAH Part 1 | Taking care of your pet

  4. Pingback: Anne of Avonlea — and not (episode 4) « Stewartry

  5. tracy says:

    i loved this movie – am buying it as soon as i finish typing here -i was SO glad to see a lot of my favourite characters – davy and dora, my harrison, lavender, paul, phil gordon, jimmy..etc-etc. i did notice the dropped g’s but i think they’re cute. bbc usually does a very faithful rendition of the book when they do a miniseries, so i knew this would be good. and if the set looks a bit like a cheapish play, well who cares! haha!

  6. tracy says:

    hmmm, i meant “Mr” Harrison , and “Jimsy” ….darn Apple auto-correct!

  7. Lynn Lowe says:

    As I said to the previous blogger, Kim Braden IS the only Anne for me. I saw the 1972 mini series “Anne of G.G.” when I was a girl of 8 and then the 1975 series “Anne of A” and I loved ’em. Then I read the books and found out how alike the stories were and in my head – I’ve never been to Canada by the way -that’s how they talked and their accents were fine!
    I have all the Kevin Sullivan versions of Anne on VHS and thought they were rubbish – that’s why I’ve never bothered to get the DVD’s.
    I really wish I could get a copy of the 1972 mini series with Kim as Anne. As far as I can remember she was brilliant and I repeat. SHE IS ANNE!

  8. stewartry says:

    I so hope a copy of that miniseries shows up one day – I would love to see it. Kim Braden was very good – but Megan Follows is my Anne! (To a point, at least.)

    I’ve been watching Lark Rise to Candleford, and it’s fun to watch the red-headed girl at the center of the story with the lad who loves her unrequitedly – I keep thinking “Anne and Gilbert”.

  9. Jules says:

    Though the BBC 1972 AOGG series no longer survives, the Japanese 1978 anime does and is not just very faithful but beautiful! Best adap so far IMHO.
    You neednt worry about accents either as it is in Japanese with English subtitles

  10. stewartry says:

    Thank you! I will have to track it down. I’ve heard good things.

  11. Jules says:

    The 1940 RKO Windy poplars film is also worth a look. it takes liberties, and is very much a film of its time, but it is more polished than the 1934 film.

  12. Jules says:

    you can watch the 1978 anime online. the subtitles are a bit ropey in places and hearing anne say Konichi wah is a bit disconcerting at first but is a great series. here is a link

  13. Carole Sharp says:

    I love this serial and Kim is my Anne. She had Canadian parents by the way (Bernard Braden and Barbara Kelly). I recently watched it again with great joy, after returning from Cavendish PEI. I hated the Kevin Sullivan one, the casting was poor and he trashed the story.

  14. ludovicah says:

    Kim Braden is “my” Anne. Megan Follows was tragically miscast in the miniseries in my opinion, physically she looked nothing like Anne in my mind Kim Braden (though much too old) certainly was very Annish physically. I take on board a lot of your criticisms here and feel they are just.. in hindsight a lot of the accents are awful, but this, and the AoGG that preceded it which is now lost were done fairly cheaply and for a British rather than an international audience, as evidenced by the wiping of the tape of AoGG, a great pity. I love this Marilla but the lost AoGG had a different and better Mrs Lynde than this one, likewise Gilbert.

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