spoiler warning: if you haven’t read Anne of Green Gables, you are 100+ years behind the curve
As a redhead and as a longtime reader, I have strong opinions on Anne of Green Gables. In the books – I love her. As an adult character, she’s everything I want to be, and as a child, she is the troublemaker that I could have been. The entire series is a favorite, and I find myself going back to it every few years as a sort of comfort – Anne and Gilbert will always be there, and the story is familiar and cozy.
So I was intrigued when I heard that PBS would be making a movie out of the books, I was intrigued. I was also in the process of reading Anne of Green Gables to the girls on nights when I put them to bed. It was exciting to read aloud to them, and to have to explain some of the subjects or ideas that I understood, but that would make less sense to small girls. It’s actually a challenging book for small girls to listen to, because it also uses flowery, older-style language that is not as common nowadays.
We finished reading the book together the night before Thanksgiving, and they were appropriately sad when Matthew died, and had lots of questions about what it means when a bank fails, and how college scholarships work. All very advanced topics that the end of the story brings up. I knew that I would be watching this movie soon, but didn’t tell them about it because…I was hesitant. And it turns out that I was right to not broadcast it to them – the movie is very meh. At least in my own picky personal opinion. There isn’t any critical roundup on Rotten Tomatoes, so I don’t know if professional television critics felt the same as I did.
There were a few big problems, and I’ll start with this – it felt entirely too silly. There were more sight gags than I would have wanted. Things like – Matthew falling in the mud in one of the first scenes. I can’t think of a second sight gag as an example, but I know there were more and that I rolled my eyes during every one.
Second – they changed a LOT of the story. Weird changes that didn’t necessarily need to be made. Entire story-lines shortened, or omitted entirely. A couple of new scenes added in that made no sense for having in the story – why the ice? Why the delayed deal with the Orphan Board? The timeline for the story was also condensed, and limited to the time where Anne was 11 or 12. Which feels like a ridiculous thing because so much of the good bits are later in the book. Sometimes they tried to make that work within the shortened narrative – like having the puffed sleeve dress appear on that first Christmas – but it didn’t feel like as big of a win in the story when it came so early and so easily.
And finally – the nit picky things. The girl who played Anne was pretty good, but she was very obviously NOT a redhead. And as a redhead, I feel like it’s hard to properly empathize with the unique spotlight that comes along with having eyes on your tresses everywhere you go. Anne’s best friend Diana is supposed to be shorter and chunkier, but in the show, she’s this tall willowy thing that makes no sense to an Anne devotee like myself. They also got the timeline wrong, but this is a problem that seems to plague most all of the Anne movie adaptations. They like to change the setting to be similar to the time that L.M. Montgomery published the book (1908), but in the actual text, there are strong indications that the story begins in 1880. This change in timeline means that too often the young adult story for Anne intertwines with WW I, which should actually be the story-line associated with Anne’s children!
Anyways. Book-to-movie or Book-to-tv adaptations are hard. Especially when you’re dealing with stories focused on children growing up. It helps when you have a slower moving story – like, Game of Thrones or the Harry Potter movies – or one that doesn’t involve children at all. This wasn’t bad per se, but it felt too much like the story was being sacrificed in order to fit into the 2 hour movie time slot. Did anyone else watch the airing that was after Thanksgiving (or DVR it like I did?) What did you think? Am I being too silly with my nit picks? I’ve got my fingers crossed that the other Anne adaptation that’s being co-produced with Netflix and the CBC will live up more to my expectations.