Retro-Review: Anne of Green Gables (1985)

Thirty three years have passed since CBC aired their adaptation of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s novel, Anne of Green Gables, starring Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth. I remember it being something of a Canadian cultural event when I was ten and quite enjoyed it then but haven’t really seen it since. I was astonished upon revisiting it to find two things: firstly, just how well I remembered the scenes and events and, secondly, how good it is even by today’s standards.

Anne Shirley is an orphan in 1890s eastern Canada, taken in by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a brother-sister bachelor-spinster couple. Anne is excrutiatingly earnest and hyper-articulate in her quest to prove herself worthy of love and respect. The film covers about three years of Anne’s life, from 13 to 16. The thing that struck me most is how affirming the story and the characters are. It’s a very difficult line to walk between being optimistic and being Pollyanna-ish. This adaptation really handles it well and its good cheer never feels forced. I admire filmmakers who can present a charming, pleasant world that draws me in rather than repelling me with saccharine sentimentalism.

The cast is marvelous. Megan Follows is perfectly earnest and very convincing at ages 13 through 16, really appearing to transform as the character does. Richard Farnsworth is endearing as a man of few words but such expressive eyes and unassuming body language that you never doubt his emotion. Colleen Dewhurst is magnificent as the stern-but-loving matron who raises Anne. The supporting cast are all agreeable and one or two stand out as more than just supporting players, but nobody has the charm or charisma of the three leads.

Another really striking feature of the film is the cinematography. This TV movie could use a Blu-ray make-over, but even at a poor screen resolution I was taken in by the majestic scenery. It really is exceptionally well shot for a mid-80s TV movie. The score is also distinctive and wraps the whole thing up in sweet emotions that made me fall in love with it. Altogether, it’s about as close to cinematic as something of its kind can get.

I really loveĀ Anne of Green Gables a lot more than I thought I would. It is superb filmmaking, making an impression on me at age ten which has not diminished. I remembered a lot more of it than I thought I would, but I was also taken in by the cinematography and music, to say nothing of the charm of the three leads. I am a fan of Anne.

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