L.M. Montgomery’s most beloved creation of little orphan Anne Shirley has been a long-time favorite for many. Her Anne of Green Gables series enchanted many young readers, and the films that were produced as a result were sweet, family-friendly watches (for the most part). One of the most famous Anne renditions was the 1980’s Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea mini-series, though there have been a variety of interpretations (1934, 1972, 2016, etc). I would argue that it’s probably the most watched and most recognized among Anne fans, and other Anne Shirleys couldn’t hold a candle to Megan Follows‘ interpretation of the character… until Netflix announced their new Anne with an E series (or so viewers hoped). But we’ll discuss that in the next post.
In this post, we’re going to focus on Megan Follow’s Anne. The 1980’s mini-series was one of my sister’s and my favorites growing up. It was our sick day, rainy day, Saturday and just-plain-lazy day go-to watch. It was the series that made me love Anne far before I even read the books. In fact, I didn’t read the first two books in the series (Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea) until my high school (?) years and the two after that (Anne of the Island and Anne of Windy Poplars) until even more recently, and I still have yet to finish the series (though what I have read reflects the first two 1980’s Anne series).
So, as we lead up to Netflix’s new, slightly controversial Anne with an E series and (sneak peak) why it doesn’t do L.M. Montgomery’s novels justice, I think it will be helpful to first analyze the favorite film (and some flaws we overlook) for comparison’s sake.
*Warning: spoilers ahead. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you know the basic story. If you don’t but don’t care, that’s fine too.*
> The best of the best
While no film is perfect, the 1980’s Anne of Green Gables & Anne of Avonlea series characters made it feel like it was. If I’m going to give the films an A+ for anything, it would be its casting and character interpretation. To many (myself included), Megan Follows IS Anne Shirley– from her quirks to her charms, Follows brings Anne to life.
But Anne’s role was not the only well-cast role. Characters like Gilbert Blythe, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, Diana Barry, and Josie Pie were brilliantly translated to the screen, helping the audience to understand how L.M. Montgomery intended her characters to be.
However, like many novel-to-film adaptations, some semi-important characters were excluded- especially ones that show up fairly often in books like Davy and Dora (Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, etc). Some characters in the series were not mentioned in the books at all. For example, I was sad to discover that the Morgan and Emmeline Harris plot line is not a thing.
The character did not exist. It’s a generous assumption that the Harris family could be very loosely based on a little girl named Elizabeth in Anne of Windy Poplar whose father is always AWOL, and the Grandmother Harris and Pauline Harris (Morgan’s sister) bit seems to be based on the Pauline Gibson story line that shows up in Anne of Windy Poplars. It seems that a lot of the sequel mini-series (Anne of Avonlea) was patched together with characters and plot lines taken from a variety of the books. I must admit I felt a bit lied to… but I will share my woes in the next section.
Plot Accuracy:its> Worse than I want to admit
Now, to clarify, Anne of Green Gables (the first film with Megan Follows) was based on- you guessed it- Anne of Green Gables (book one in the series), and Anne of Avonlea (the sequel) is based on Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island and Anne of Windy Poplars.
The first Megan Follows’ Anne film was generally pretty accurate. The sequel, I was surprised to find out, is not.
Now, for those of us that watched the mini-series first, this may be a bit difficult to swallow. In my case, I felt myself getting a little Anne-esque and wanting that extra bit of romantic conflict. After reading the book, of course I recognize that Morgan Harris is completely unnecessary (and a bit annoying), but for some reason, I find myself holding onto this incorrect plot line- maybe it’s because it made the reunion with Gilbert all the more sweet or maybe it’s because we all like drama. Whatever the reason, here I am. Slightly baffled whether to side with the original novel or the exaggerated mini-series.
Another notable plot change was the order by which Anne and Gilbert admit their love for one another. At the end of Anne of the Island and before Anne goes off to teach the Pringles in Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne and Gilbert become an item. In the mini-series, however, she doesn’t realize she loves him until the very end. Basically, this plot line is generally correct, but the timeline is quite jumbled. Which was all done to make room for- that’s right- Morgan Harris. Oh Morgan, you are a confusion to us all.
> Sweet, but fairly normal
While I would like to say that Anne of Green Gables and its sequel are cinematic masterpieces, they’re pretty regular (from a film perspective). That doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable in all of its simplicity, but it would be dishonest (and very biased) of me to not admit its ordinary-nature.
It’s pretty much a Canadian Hallmark movie (though I’m sure some Hallmark movies are Canadian)- low-budget and light-hearted and happy that way.
> Plain, old Anne Shirley
This category was a bit difficult for me to rate, because the Anne books are fairly straight forward.
“This is Anne Shirley.
She has a wild imagination and a constantly moving tongue.
She’s a fiery red head who makes silly mistakes but can hold her own.
She is who she is.
Here are a bunch of mildly related anecdotes to tell us about her.”
That is the general premise of the books (that I’ve read), and if the films got too much more creative than that, they would cease to radiate the Anne Shirley simple charm.
Thus, no, the mini-series was not exactly “creative,” but it was a practical and accurate portrayal of the novels. However, I would argue that the actors’ interpretation of their characters are fairly creative, particularly Megan Follows. She is fantastic at acting a quirky, slightly odd character who is constantly caught up in a dream world.
> As true as a “bosom friend”
The plot may not have been completely accurate (though still great) and the TV series may not have the best visual effects of all time, but if there’s one thing this film was true to, it was L.M. Montgomery’s overall theme.
Megan Follows nailed the Anne Shirley depiction, but the TV series as a whole gave an accurate aura of the books.
- The beauty of an orphan finding a home (and the complicated love of those who take her in)
- The importance of friendship and loyalty, particularly between Anne and Diana
- The endearing nature of Anne’s childhood frenemy relationship and romance with Gilbert
- Anne’s commitment to excellence and quest to achieve her dreams as a teacher and writer
- The humor of small-town entertainment (gossip, mostly)
- The difficulties of growing up, making friends, moving somewhere new and falling in love
I could go on, but my point is… A++ to the producers of the Anne of Green Gables miniseries. You are the champions, my friend.
Though a fairly ordinary film experience lacking in some accuracy, the theme and characters redeem this mini-series’ interpretation of the beloved L.M. Montgomery novel.
Not perfectly perfect if you’re using it to write a summary for a book report, but I still think this series was a winner! Nothing matters more to me in this miniseries than the “true vibe.”
Did you watch the new(er) Anne with an E film on Netflix?
I did. And it hurt my heart.
Tune in next time to hear me rant about why Anne with an E would make L.M. Montgomery roll in her grave.
P.S. For any Anne fans out there, check out CarrotTopPaperShop! Jenny is a gifted artist with a sweet, whimsical spirit, and she holds a special place in her heart for all things Anne Shirley. It’s still on my to-do list to purchase one of her “I’m Booked” totes ;).