Adaptations: Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables was first published in 1908 and it has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. As an undisputed children’s classic, the novel was ripe for adaption with the advent of the silver screen and there have been quite a few adaptations. The first two Anne of Green Gables movies were made during the lifetime of L.M Montgomery who was pretty scathing of these first efforts.

Anne of Green Gables (1919)

Mary Miles Minter as Anne, Marcia Harris as Marilla and Frederick Burton as Matthew. Moving Picture Age (1920).

The very first screen adaptation was a silent comedy starring Mary Miles Minter and directed by William Desmond Taylor. The film earned the wrath of Montgomery for turning her beloved character into an American and showing her brandishing a shotgun. The film was well received, however Montgomery complained Minter had portrayed Anne as being too sugary sweet and had failed to capture her “gingery” nature.

Anne of Green Gables was released on 23 November 1919 but the film has since been lost.

Anne of Green Gables (1934)

Anne of Green Gables (1934) starring Dawn O’Day who later adopted the name Anne Shirley.

Anne’s second adaptation was released in 1934, starring Dawn O’Day as Anne and was directed by George Nicholls, Jr. While Montgomery was at least happier with this version of her book, she still felt the portrayal of Anne was too sweet but at least she was Canadian again. The film was somewhat faithful to the book and the performances from the cast saved it from becoming too saccharine. The film was a surprising hit for RKO and the actress adopted Anne Shirley as her stage name thereafter.

Anne of Green Gables was released on 23 November 1934.

anne of windy poplars (1940)

Anne of Windy Poplars (1940) starring Anne Shirley as Anne and Joan Carroll as Elizabeth Grayson. RKO

After the success of the first film, Anne Shirley reprised her role for the sequel which follows Anne’s adventures as a schoolmistress in the town of Pringleton where she comes up against the difficult Pringle family. The script differs widely from the novel, including Anne and Gilbert’s adoption of little Elizabeth Grayson after their marriage. The film was not as well received as its predecessor and was mostly panned by critics for being too sentimental.

Anne of Windy Poplars was released on 28 June 1940.

Anne of Green Gables (1972)

This BBC adaptation was a 5-part television mini-series starring Kim Braden in the title role and was directed by Joan Craft. Braden, a British actress born to Canadian parents, was twenty-four at the time the series was filmed and it was well received by fans of the book. The series premiered on 20 February 1972 but the master tapes were accidentally erased and it no longer survives in any format.

Anne of Avonlea (1975)

Kim Braden returned for the sequel Anne of Avonlea which was a six-part series shown on the BBC on 26 January 1975. Joan Craft returned to direct the series and Braden was joined by Christopher Blake as Gilbert. The series combines the plots of Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island, and while it remains faithful to both, there have been a few changes to fit the series.

Anne of Green Gables (1979)

Akage no An (1979)

Anne Shirley made her first appearance in an animated series in 1979 when Nippon Animation adapted the book for their Akage no An (Red Haired Anne) series. The first episode aired on 7 January 1979 and ran for fifty episodes. The series became an instant classic and frequently appears on best-anime film lists. The series was directed by Isao Takahata and the character of Anne was voiced by Eiko Yamada.

A prequel, Kon’nichiwa Anne: Before Green Gables, was made in 2009 based on the book Before Green Gables which was written in 2008 by Budge Wilson for the centennial anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables.

Anne of Green Gables (1985)

Megan Follows as Anne Shirley. Sullivan Entertainment (1985)

For many this two-part Canadian television film will always be the definitive version of the story and it has a special place in the hearts of many fans of the book. The series was made by Kevin Sullivan for CBC and it first aired in Canada on 1 December 1985. It is still the highest-rated drama in Canadian television history.

The role of Anne Shirley was a breakthrough one for Megan Follows and it would earn her two Gemini Awards (Canadian Emmy). While the film remains fairly close to the book, sympathetic changes were made so it would appeal to a modern audience. The film would spawn three sequels which would borrow from Montgomery but would be based on Sullivan’s own work. Sullivan would also create the highly successful Road to Avonlea series which didn’t feature Anne but would have some of the characters from the books.

Anne of Green Gables: The Animated Series (2001)

Anne of Green Gables: The Animated Series. Sullivan Entertainment (2001)

In 2001, Sullivan Entertainment created their own animated series based on the book, however many of the supporting characters were taken from the Road to Avonlea. The series was created for PBS Kids and came with  “Ready-to-Learn” guides for teachers. It lasted for one season, however it was followed by Anne: Journey to Green Gables, an animated prequel in 2005.

L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (2016)

Sara Botsford as Marilla, Ella Ballentine as Anne and Martin Sheen as Matthew. Breakthrough Entertainment 2016

After a decade of being absent from our screens, Anne Shirley finally returned in the Canadian television film produced by Breakthrough Entertainment in 2016, starring Ella BallentineMartin Sheen and Sara Botsford.  The film aired on 15 February 2016 and was followed by Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars (2017) and Anne of Green Gables: Fire & Dew (2017). While the film has a lot of the familiar storylines, it makes significant changes and is drawn out over the three movies.

Anne with an E (2011)

Amybeth McNulty as Anne Shirley (2017)

On 19 March 2017, Anne Shirley made her most recent debut in the Canadian television series Anne with an E which was shown on CBC and distributed internationally by Netflix. The series, starring Irish-Canadian actress Amybeth McNulty, was divisive from the start as it had a darker tone than any of the previous productions. The show was also made more diverse with the introduction of ethnic characters, particularly Bash, who is befriended by Gilbert Blythe when he leaves Avonlea on an adventure. Gilbert Blythe’s background is changed considerably and is almost unrecognisable from the book.

The series aired for three seasons and became increasingly separate from the books as it explored themes of homosexuality, gender and racism. The background of established characters continued to be reworked to fit these new themes and sometimes it really just does not work.

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