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.

DC versus Marvel

I like comics books. I generally love visual storytelling, so it’s a natural. I’ve never been an obsessive fan, but I’ve been buying on and off since I was eleven. Super-heroes are what comics are best known for, of course, and both DC and Marvel have legions of fans. I have a more casual interest and am not exclusively devoted to one or the other. However, on balance I would have to say I lean toward DC more.

I have loved Spider-Man for as long as I can remember – the Ralph Bakshi cartoon was my gateway when I was too young to read. I was crazy about the Hulk tv show with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno when it was on the air. Christopher Reeve’s Superman was flying high in the movies, but my first exposure to super-hero comics was issues of Amazing Spider-Man my brother had lying around. It wasn’t until I was eleven that I bought my own: a copy of issue #281, October 1986. I was an avid reader for the next 4 years but lost interest after Todd MacFarlane’s run as artist ended.

I drifted in and out of comics for a while after that, guided by the principle of buying them solely for their art because I had a very low opinion of the writing (except for Alan Moore who was light years ahead of everyone else with Watchmen). What really drew me back in was the Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee team-up on Batman with the “Hush” storyline in 2002. It blew me away. I felt the writing was compelling and the art was spectacular. I began buying comics regularly again and have stayed fairly faithful ever since, but Spider-Man and the X-Men are the only Marvel properties I’ve ever really related to. I loved the Hulk tv show as a kid, but for some reason the comics just never kept me engaged. DC, for me, just has a more interesting pantheon of heroes who seem somehow more iconic.

Really, however, the biggest reason I prefer DC is simple: better female characters. I’m too old and too straight to be looking at men in tight costumes, for one thing, but I’m also more interested in different perspectives. I already have a good idea of the value system of male characters because I am male and even though the writers of female characters tend to be male, I usually read comics primarily for the art and want to look at somebody unlike me. Outside of the X-Men, it’s not as easy to name a half dozen major characters who are also female as it is when you look at DC.

Being a movie buff, I can’t help mention the state of the competition there. Obviously, Marvel Studios is killing DC in terms of box office. Wonder Woman has been the only real victory for DC since they launched their cinematic universe with Man of Steel in 2013 (so that disqualifies the superior Dark Knight trilogy which concluded in 2012). However, I’m personally not that keen on Marvel’s movies either; the only one I loved without reservation was Doctor Strange in 2017. I quite like some of the X-Men movies, but technically they belong to 20th Century Fox, not Marvel Studios. I am a very hard audience to please when it comes to film.