Tonight's Anne of Green Gables" A New Beginning could almost be called Anne of Green Gables: If I Did It.
The "I" being writer/producer/director Kevin Sullivan, who has concocted tonight's three hour "prequel/sequel" to his hallowed and Hallmark-y Green Gables trilogy.
In the extensive press notes to the TV-movie, which included a lavish, full colour, 64-page press booklet plus a novel, Sullivan says he was motivated to do more Anne by the 100th anniversary of the publishing of author Lucy Maud Montgomery's first Green Gables book. He says he drew from her personal letters as well as descriptions of Anne's beginnings found in the first book to come up with tonight's story. Perhaps, but it plays more like Sullivan was plundering Dickens by way of Knots Landing.
Sullivan, in fact, has tossed a lot of Montgomery's original orphan girl mythology. Sullivan and the Montgomery estate have had their legal differences in the past, and perhaps a story with no Montgomery elements is a prudent, not to mention cathartic, course for the filmmaker to take. Anne purists, however, are going to be pissed.
Fans of Sullivan's original Green Gables trilogy will also be asking where the heck is Megan Follows. The actress--recently seen in a episode of The Border--owned Anne, captivating a nation back in the mid-'80s when Sullivan's original adaptation drew over five million viewers on CBC.
Sullivan and Follows have reportedly had their differences and are no longer "kindred spirits"so they may both simply be done working together. That is a shame; both brought out the best in each other's work.
The story seems written almost to explain Follow's absence in the cast. The young Anne, here gamely played by Toronto native Hannah Endicott-Douglas, is even younger than Follows was nearly 25 years ago when she first donned the red pigtails. The new movie's older Anne, played here by American actress Barbara Hershey, is supposed to in her 60s, decades older than 40-year-old Follows. (Hershey herself is, surprisingly, 60.) If Sullivan had not wanted to work with Follows, he certainly found a way around her in his script.
The other big name in tonight's production is Shirley MacLaine, who, not surprisingly, steals every scene she's in as a rich matron who briefly gives Anne shelter. I got in on a press tour scrum with MacLaine last July where she was promoting her appearance in a Lifetime Channel biography of Coco Chanel. The Anne shoot came up and she said she enjoyed working on the project in Canada. “I am half Canadian," she joked at the time.“The bottom half."
MacLaine's mother, Kathlyn Corinne, was born in Nova Scotia and worked as a drama teacher. Her father, Iran Owens Beaty, moved the family to Virginia, where MacLaine was born and raised along with her brother, Warren Beatty. There's more about MacLaine and Green Gables in the Starweek cover story I wrote in Saturday's edition, which, unfortunately, I can't link to here.
Personally, if Sullivan was going to just make something up, I would rather have watched Follows play an older Anne as a feisty, Depression-era heroine than the somewhat haunted, burnt out author who gradually comes to terms with her early years in this bland new beginning. Then again, maybe Anne just doesn't age all that well. Maybe she is supposed to stay in freckles and pigtails, locked in that perfect P.E.I. prism Montgomery authored and Sullivan so artfully adapted when they both were in their 20s.
The movie airs tonight at 7 p.m. on CTV and if it draws a third of the five million who watched the first Anne that will be something. There is plenty of competition tonight with The Grinch on at 7 on CBC followed by The Polar Express as well as the series finale of Survivor at 8 on Global.