As a general rule, I don't really approve of remaking classic films. But a second, or fourth, or nineteenth filmed adaptation of a book is not the same thing as a remake, and so when I heard that there was to be a new film of my book, Anne of Green Gables, I was not one of the Megan Follows devotees who bewailed that the 1985 series was untouchable. Because, excellent as that series is (at least, the first one) having multiple adaptations available sends you back to the source material. All on-screen Annes are imitations of the Platonic Ideal Anne found in the pages of L.M.Montgomery's novels. And as far as I'm concerned, the more Anne the better.
All the previous versions of Anne that I have seen have aged Anne up a bit, or a lot, from her original eleven years. Megan Follows' Anne (1985) started out as thirteen, Anne Shirley's Anne Shirley (1934) was fourteen, and although I've only seen the sequel to the BBC version from the '70s, it looks like Kim Braden would have been at least in her late teens. Both contemporary-set webseries Green Gables Fables and Project Green Gables started her story at the age of seventeen. But Ella Ballentine was closer to Anne's real age, and reminds us that she was in fact only a child, and yet she'd already been through so much. She is a resilient, loving little soul who has used her vivid imagination to survive a turbulent childhood and bring what comfort she can to others; we see her trying to cheer up other children in the orphanage and on the train to Prince Edward Island. When she speaks of her hardships, her matter-of-fact tone breaks the listeners' hearts, both in-universe and out, that nothing strikes her as unusual in living with guardians who she was sure meant to be good to her, or never having had a friend. After such an existence, she revels in life in the countryside, and although Matthew and Marilla don't know what to make of her joy at such (to them) commonplace things as the scent of lilac, the flight of seagulls, they come to see their world as for the first time. This bright-eyed little girl with the fancy turn of phrase is both strange and endearing,
Of course, if Anne is the right age, so are Diana and her schoolmates, and so is Gilbert Blythe (13). He is very definitely a mischievous schoolboy and not a romantic hero. But this is Anne of Green Gables before it becomes a love story; its focus is on family and belonging, and a celebration of simple wonders. Diana is a true kindred spirit; the film shows us a little bit more of what draws her and Anne together, their love of fairy-tales and make-believe. Mrs Rachel Lynde provides a light comic touch. "Now, you know me, I'm not one to interfere..." Marilla Cuthbert is well-drawn, played by Sara Botsford, striking the right balance between severity and soft-heartedness. Martin Sheen's Matthew, was not quite Matthew Cuthbert as we know him. He's lovable, quiet and sweet, but not shy so much as introverted.
This film doesn't cover the whole book, but only Anne's first year at Green Gables. Still, it's better to take its time over the first half and do it well than to rush the entire book into a two-hour movie. It ends with a slight deviation from the original story, in order to have a satisfying conclusion part-way through, while still potentially leaving it open to a sequel.
And if this team does not make a sequel, there will be more of Miss Shirley to come next year on Netflix, with a new series simply entitled Anne. Watch this space.