Review: Historical Fiction · Review: Romance · Review: Teen Fiction

TV Show Review: Anne of Green Gables the Sequel (CBC, 1987)

Continuing Anne’s story from the first miniseries, this is a miniseries that furthers Anne’s story, drawing from sequels of the novel: Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, and Anne of Windy Poplars.

This review will contain spoilers.

Once again, this story draws largely from the source material though reordering events so as to create a certain sequence that better suits what they wanted to tell. Once again, the main plot of this story seems to focus on Anne and Gilbert’s romance.

It is once again attempting to be a feel-good story, light and playful in tone. But this time, that made this already messy story horrifying, because the events that take place in this story actually require more gravity than they are allowed.

Anne of Green Gables the Sequel doesn’t quite toss the three books on which it is based into a blender and throw the pulp at the screen, but it is a near miss. We start out in Anne of Avonlea, jump one sequence later to the middle of Anne of the Island, which keeps up for an hour or so. Then we are in the middle of an odd mix of Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Avonlea until the end of the book, which brings us back to Anne of the Island.

The reordering is designed to once again create a separation between Anne and Gilbert after his first proposal and before the second, to give Anne a chance to develop. This follows logically from the sequence of events: since the first series was designed to revolve around Anne and Gilbert’s relationship, with a sort of self-denial culminating in acceptance at the end, it makes sense to make Anne’s rejection of Gilbert’s proposal a larger affair, and separate them in order to let Anne develop the desire to return to Gilbert.

Yet that idea is not what the final film conveys. Instead of rejecting her suitor because she realizes she doesn’t love him after all, and choosing Gilbert because she comes to the realization that he is the one she loved and wanted all along, Anne rejects her suitor despite loving him because she misses Green Gables. It would appear that she chooses Gilbert not because she loved him all along, but because he understands her attachment to Green Gables and reminds her of the good old days. Anne’s rejection of Gilbert, a plotline that only exists because that is how events occurred in the book, is really out of place here, because the first book so clearly indicated a romance between the two of them that Anne accepted at the end. The only conclusion that I can reach is that this Anne has realized that she does not love Gilbert after all. But then this makes Anne’s rejection of her next suitor and return to Gilbert insincere.

They keep the part of the story about Anne coming to her realization about Gilbert when she hears that he is deathly ill. But frankly, this seems to have less impact when they’ve barely spoken once and he has proposed to another woman. For that matter, it alters the nature of Gilbert and their relationship that he did propose to another woman and then jilt her, rather than have Gilbert’s friendship with another become an obsession of Anne’s imagination even though there was never any romance there.

Neither of them seem as invested in this relationship. Anne’s suitor in this story is a certain Morgan Harris, who is the true romantic lead of this story. He is based on Roy Gardner, the character from the books whom Anne dates for a time, but one aspect is fundamentally different: Anne meets Morgan through her student Emmaline, who is Morgan’s daughter.

Emmaline is a student at Kingsport Ladies’ College, which is based on Summerside High School from the books, complete with the all-important Pringle family. Emmaline is half a Pringle, and Anne’s first ally in an unfriendly class. After Morgan pulls Emmaline out of school following an unfortunate series of events, Anne offers her services as a tutor for Emmaline, and ends up endearing herself to the entire family, including Emmaline’s bad-tempered aunt and timid aunt.

Now, she is supposedly doing all this while simultaneously working full-time as a teacher at the college.

But the college is a deeply unfriendly place for Anne, so it is absolutely conceivable that she would go out of her way to spend time with the only student that she found agreeable.

Let’s talk about that unfriendliness at the college for a moment. Students pull “pranks” on Anne derived from Anne of Avonlea: a critter in her desk and a box of firecrackers that they trick Anne into ordering them to throw into the fire. Both of these incidents, though carried over from the book, are far more malicious in this version. The mouse from the book is a snake, and the stammering student’s inability to explain that the box contains firecrackers has become students smugly creating a situation in which they are holding sweets as if eating out of a box that contains firecrackers, and when Anne orders them to toss the box into the fire, their only protest is a sly, “Are you sure?” before doing just that. Combined with a movie-only scene where one of these girls throws a stick through the spokes of the wheel of a bicycle that Emmaline and a friend are riding, this is a murder just waiting to happen. These are not small children; as far as I can tell, they are early teens at the youngest. When the girl “sees the error of her ways” in the end, she offers no words of regret, nor apology, and I am left wondering if she truly stopped endangering the lives of teachers and classmates after this.

There was one element to this debacle that I admired, though it was more a detail of adaptation than one of storytelling: there is a scene where Anne canes the student, after she admits to putting a snake in Anne’s desk. This caning happens in the book, and is a part of a major character arc for Anne: it comes half way through a book, after many discussions in which Anne has made it abundantly clear that she does not believe in hitting students, and she is filled with guilt afterwards, knowing that it was not a thoughtful decision but an emotional outburst on her own part. All of this arc is absent except for the lashing itself. Yet Anne’s reluctance is palpable.

 Amidst all of this adversity, the Harris family becomes a much-needed refuge for Anne. Her love for Emmaline, Morgan and their entire family is entirely genuine. Morgan is the one who has a woman friend that Anne mistakes for a lover, which makes here jealous: a plotline that in the books, cemented our certainty that Gilbert is the one that she wants.

It would appear that in this version, Anne’s true love was not a person, but the Green Gables house–yet this doesn’t make sense either, because the next sequel shows that Anne and Gilbert moved away, just as they do in the book. Her choosing Gilbert seems a choice made out of logic rather than love, and that logic is countered later anyway, so I find myself thinking that surely she wanted to be with the Harrises instead.

Between the murderous teenagers, Anne having no idea what she wants in romance, and the apparent love story with a house, this show simply could not keep me invested in the story. It is, however, a nice look at the mind of a young woman, still in her late teens, who thinks she knows what she wants but has no idea what that is and ultimately gives up what she truly wants.

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