Review: Children's Fiction · Review: Historical Fiction

Movie Review: Anne of Green Gables (PBS, 2016)

This adaptation of Anne of Green Gables is a 90-minute TV movie, and my favorite adaptation by far. Balancing childhood wonder with joy and sorrow, it is simultaneously both the most accurate to the book and the only adaptation that I have found that took me back to my own childhood, and the things I felt when I read the book for the first time.

The 2016 movie spans the same time period as the 2017 TV series Anne with an E: that is to say, the first half or so of the book and the first year of Anne’s life in Green Gables.

This Anne is clearly wounded by her life before the Cuthberts. Her pain is neither dismissed nor embellished. The realization that she may not be permitted to stay with the Cuthberts visibly breaks her heart. Yet Anne is an optimist, and so we the audience can bounce back with her.

There is joy, laughter and tears, but this seeks to be neither a tragedy nor a comedy. It is simply episodes in the life of a girl growing up, leaving the misery of her life as an orphan behind to find happiness and family at Green Gables.

What this adaptation lacks is time. At times, scenes jump from episode to episode with no transition, creating the same sensation as the book of time rushing by far faster than it seems to. But where the book could have a paragraph or so explaining to us readers how much time has passed, there are only seasons and dialogue to tell time here. For what they had to work with, this movie uses the language of film dexterously: the leaps in time are only communicated in one dialogue, when Marilla and Matthew remark on how it has been four months since Anne’s arrival, the snowfall, and a Christmas pageant. It never uses the same mode twice, and so it never feels forced.

I said that this version is most accurate to the book, and I stand by that statement. But it does add events to its story that did not occur in the book. Sometimes these serve to develope characters; other times, they serve to streamline the story, giving the film a clearer sense of an ending than it would have had had they stuck with episodic scenes straight from the book. I will admit that the film’s climax is predictably contrived. At the same time, it is utterly satisfying and touching.

It was also interesting to note that this version of Diana is the only one that looks nothing like her book counterpart. She is beautiful, but otherwise she is taller than Anne and blonde. But that said, she acts the most similarly to how I imagined Diana from the books acting.

Though it should go without saying, I will take a moment to note that like in the book, Anne’s friendship with Diana and her filial relationships with the Cuthberts are the relationships that take center stage and drive the plot. Gilbert Blythe remains in the role set for him in the books: designated an enemy by Anne because he teased her about her hair, but softening to a potential future friendship by the end.

I would soonest recommend the book. But I would not hesitate to recommend this version as well. It is, in my opinion, the best of the Anne of Green Gables adaptations that I have had the pleasure to experience. There is no contest.

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