Monday, December 15, 2008

Anne of Green Gables - A New Beginning - Review

Well I saw the movie last night. It was good but it was different. There is NO Gilbert, no Marilla - just brief glimpses of them as a memory.

In any Anne Shirley story you have to have the obligatory crusty old lady that young Anne can charm the pants off. First it was Marilla, then it was Rachel Lynde and in this movie that crusty old lady is Mrs Thomas - played by Shirley MacLaine.

This movie was done as a tie into the third Anne of Green Gables movie that Megan Follows made - the one where Gilbert went off to Europe during world war one. In that movie, Anne and Gilbert adopted young Dominic.

In this new movie, Dominic is grown up and is about to return home (to PEI) from Europe having been away fighting in WW2. The year is 1945.

Anne's early story is told as flashbacks. There are two stories happening here. The first one which tells of Anne's early life before she ended up at the Hammonds looking after their 8 kids. The second story is of Anne as widow and playwrite, waiting for Dominic to come home, looking for her father and then later her brother.

One thing I will say about young Anne (Hannah Endicott-Douglas) - she sure does talk the hind legs off a mule. She just would not stop talking. I realise that it was scripted, and she did a great job with everything she had to learn, but her voice. I felt Hannah's voice grating on me, especially after she had been talking for too long. Megan's voice never had that effect.

I'm sorry, but I think Megan Follows will always be Anne Shirley to me.

Here is the Globe and Mail review from yesterday.

In this season of specials, the biggest event on Canadian television this month is surely a three-hour, made-for-TV movie that presumes to give us both prequel and sequel to the enduring tale of Anne of Green Gables. Well, you mess with a Canadian literary icon at your peril. Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning is both largely unnecessary and mainly disappointing. The one bit of good news is that 12-year-old Hannah Endicott-Douglas is a worthy successor to Megan Follows, who played the character in the original mini-series. Read on.

Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning CTV, Sunday, 7 p.m.

It must be a frustration to those who make their living off the Anne of Green Gables legacy that L.M. Montgomery's original book contained but a few pages of pathetic suffering before the orphaned Anne bonded with her adoptive family and moved on to other exploits. Having long since exhausted the original material, producer Kevin Sullivan, who created the popular TV mini-series back in the 1980s, has invented a largely unnecessary prequel to the story of the red-headed orphan, and interwoven it with a weak sequel in a three-hour, TV movie. Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning is a disappointing affair, an ill-conceived and melodramatic narrative enlivened only by its period setting in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and the happy presence of Hannah Endicott-Douglas in the role of the iconic Anne.

The original book was aimed at children and Anne conquered her sorry circumstances pretty quickly. Sullivan, who both wrote and directed this new movie, clearly feels there was a certain lack of drama and worthy opponents in the book, and goes overboard here creating a highly improbable back story that borrows as much from Charles Dickens as Montgomery. After the death of her school teacher mother and desertion of her lumberjack father, Anne is thrown into the local poorhouse: break the ice on the freezing water bucket, throw the kindly old lunatic in a dungeon, and cue the cruel matron.

Fleeing this place, she just happens to run into Louisa Thomas (Rachel Blanchard), a confusingly contradictory character who was a friend of her mother and wife of a drunken doctor who has conveniently removed himself from the plot by dying. Louisa and her children are also on the run from their past, and Anne eventually tags along with them. They are to live with their irascible but wealthy grandmother whose cruel housekeeper banishes Anne first to the stables and then to the lumber mill the family owns. (The notion a girl would be asked to work in these all-male environments is just one of several historically dubious plot points here.) There follows a convoluted story about Anne's reappearing dad and union organizing at the mill. The only thing that makes it watchable is the relationship between Handicott-Douglas's fine reprise of the spunky Anne and Shirley MacClaine's lively version of the redoubtable Mrs. Thomas, as the irrepressible child inevitably wins over the battle axe. Then Mrs. Thomas disappears from the action just as abruptly as her drunken son did.

If this weren't enough, this tale is told in flashbacks from a sequel that picks up the story years later at the end of the Second World War. Anne is now a mother, grandmother and successful writer, returning to Green Gables to seek inspiration for a play she is trying to write, and to await the return of her adopted son from the war in Europe. When she finds a 30-year-old letter from her father beneath a floorboard, she suddenly goes charging off after him. (Why she has not thought to find him in the intervening years is never explained, along with a lot of other motivations.) She discovers he is dead - her assumption that at her age he would be anything other seems a bit odd - but also runs into various members of the old Thomas entourage still up to their nasty tricks. This section of the movie is even more improbable and ill-explained than the earlier one, and this time we have no formidable orphans and widows to cheer things up. As the aging Anne (a character based as much on Montgomery herself as on her fiction) Barbara Hershey offers a limp Katherine Hepburn imitation that somehow produces Anne's flightiness without any of her charm.

Perhaps fans of the original series will feel more Anne in any guise is necessarily a good thing, but this movie, which is accompanied, of course, by a larger marketing effort featuring all kinds of Green Gables paraphernalia, never justifies its presumption in inventing a new creation story for a Canadian literary icon.

1 comment:

Canadian Tourism said...

Canadian Tourism has put together a brief film on Anne of Green Gables tours in Cavendish, PEI. Have a look!