TV Review: ‘L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables’ on PBS

Anne of Green Gables Review
Courtesy of PBS

The group CDZA has a series of odd and amusing videos where they run the lyrics of pop songs through Google Translate and then have a performer reproduce what happens when you translate them back into English. “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s” theme song somehow acquires the word “apricot” in Mandarin; as it is further garbled through the machine, more and more nuance is lost until the only recognizable terms are “mom,” “7,” “8,” and “chair” (which is all of “throne” that made it through).

“L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables” feels a bit like the Google Translate version of “Anne of Green Gables,” Montgomery’s book introducing redheaded orphan Anne Shirley — an imaginative 11-year-old who accidentally is adopted by a pair of elderly siblings and ends up stealing their hearts. In the television movie, which will air on PBS this Thanksgiving, Anne (Ella Ballentine) is a bit too adorable to play the homely orphan, with freckles that appear to be dotted on by a makeup artist and a temperament that is more confusingly erratic than charmingly mercurial. Anne, in the book, is a singularly Victorian construct, characterized by bursts of temper, flights of fancy, and multisyllabic words. Her monologues, which frequently take up whole pages, are brilliant, sentimental, ridiculous, and full of romantic adoration for the world, whether it is the unceasing beauty of Avonlea’s plum trees or raptures over a particularly fine set of puffed sleeves. Her charm is in her guileless admiration for the world, her heart perpetually worn on her sleeve.

None of that charm translates through “L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables” — not when it comes to the acting, the dialogue, or even the treatment of episodes from the book, such as the moment where Anne cracks her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s (Drew Haytaoglu) head. Though the characters are somewhat recognizable and the adventures faintly ring a bell, the 90-minute made-for-TV movie truncates the plot, flattens the characters, and fumbles through the small-town sentiment that the book’s author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, excelled at.

Matthew Cuthbert, a character defined by shyness and silence, is played by Martin Sheen — an actor so engagingly garrulous that it’s all he can do to hold his tongue with Marilla (Sara Botsford). Rachel Lynde (Kate Hennig), a figure made for outsize portrayal, doesn’t have enough to do in this adaptation except show up for preordained moments where she and Anne will interact momentously (puffed sleeves!) and otherwise just casts vague aspersions about orphans in Marilla’s direction. And given that Avonlea, more than Anne, is Montgomery’s most beloved creation, precious little time is spent enjoying the small-town drama of Prince Edward Island. Despite the much-touted fact that this production is produced by the author’s granduaghter, Kate Macdonald Butler, upon viewing, the lengthily titled “L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables” turns out to be anything but.

The film chooses to only adapt the first half or so of the book — focusing just on Anne’s arrival in the fictional town of Avonlea and the Cuthberts’ decision to “keep” her. It’s the most kid-friendly half — focusing on Anne’s marvelous ability to land into “scrapes” and her growing acceptance from the rest of the town — but doesn’t really have much of a narrative arc. With just 90 minutes to make it through the first half or so of the book, the film skimps on establishment and impact of the various plot developments in order to merely tick items off a list. Anne must meet Diana (Julia Lalonde, a thin brunette terribly miscast as the plump, raven-haired Diana) and use the world “bosom friends” and/or “kindred spirits”; she must fly into a temper at Rachel Lynde, and then receive the dress with puffed sleeves; she must of course begin the first step of hate-flirting with Gilbert, which will end, eventually, in friendship and then marriage. Perhaps this last is the most telling interpretation in the film; rather than the white-hot rage that Anne feels for the boy who pulls her hair and whispers “carrots,” film-Anne hides a grin of pleasure. Character development here is less significant than winking to an audience that already knows what’s going to happen.

Which is to say that in the choice between making a good adaptation or a good film, “L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables” chooses… neither, content with being a dull film and a mediocre adaptation. It’s not poorly done as much as it’s just off, with an interpretation of the story that feels like a blurred copy of the original. Considering how readable the book continues to be — and how many other TV versions of this story already exist — it is hard to imagine who this adaptation is even for.

TV Review: 'L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables' on PBS

TV Movie: PBS, Thurs. Nov. 24, 8 p.m. 90 min.

Crew

Executive producer, Kate Macdonald Butler

Cast

Martin Sheen, Ella Ballentine, Sara Botsford, Julia Lalonde, Kate Hennig, Stefani Kimber, Drew Haytaoglu, Kyle Gatehouse, Linda Kash

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  1. Julio says:

    What is the name of the song towards the end of this movie? Thanks.

  2. Marple says:

    This review is right on. Within the first few minutes it’s “clear as day” that the creators did not read the book. This version is horrible. A sad attempt to outshine the Anne of Green Gables made by Sullivan Entertainment.

  3. Sue Earl says:

    I had to turn it off. Why oh why can’t they be true to the book? The ‘Anne’ books are beloved worldwide just be true to the story and for goodness sake find actors that fit the parts. The first Meagan Follows version is the best but then they went off the rails with the second one butchering the story for some unknown reason.

  4. Terri Tomlinson says:

    The miscasting of the major characters was the death of this version. I love Martin Sheen but this was NOT Matthew, Richard Farnsworth captured the shy and sweet character perfectly. Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla cannot be topped.
    What I don’t understand, is why would you make a version not true to the book? By the time Marilla was showing Anne how to milk a cow(???) I had lost all hope.

  5. suzfntn says:

    Couldn’t agree more! This version is not true to the personalities of the characters, and it’s unwatchable. The only one that should ever be shown is the Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie version.

  6. Bethko says:

    Could not agree with you more. As a lover of L.M.M Anne books and Meghan Follow’s portrayal, this was an exciting opportunity to attract new Anne lovers. I couldn’t even finish watching it. It was just not the characters I loved.

  7. esa0519 says:

    There are only 2 actors that do justice to playing Gilbert and Anne and that is Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie (R.I.P.) They can film this story over and over again but the one with Megan and Jonathan are number one in my book.

    • puttingitouttotheuniverse says:

      OH NO not another remake, the classic was as perfect as it comes… Megan Follows will always be the real Anne to me!!

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