Being in Canada has rekindled my desire to visit Prince Edward Island and re-awakened my passion for LM Montgomery’s books. My long-suffering sister had to listen to me burbling on about both. She also had to listen to my memories of the BBC productions of Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea from the 1970s. If I remember correctly, I read Anne of Green Gables after having seen the show. I know, however, that I read Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island before I saw them dramatised (together as Anne of Avonlea). I still have my copies of these books with the dates I acquired them written on. My memory was that I’d read them when I was very young but I can hardly believe just how young I was! Maybe that’s partly why I’ve always been able to re-read them and find something new in them.
I loved these series and wrote to the BBC to tell them so and to ask them to repeat them. They never did as far as I remember but they did send me some stills which I still have. I think UK Gold has shown these programmes but I’ve never had access to it so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that Anne of Avonlea is available on DVD. Needless to say, I placed my order immediately and last weekend I settled down (slightly warily) to watch.
Of course it’s showing its age and naturally there’s much missed out but for me age has not withered its appeal. Kim Braden was always Anne to me and she didn’t disappoint as I revisited old memories. And crucially, the scriptwriters didn’t mess around much with Montgomery’s stories. And why would you? They’re excellent novels at whatever age one reads them.
At the same time as I bought this DVD, I also splurged on the Kevin Sullivan trilogy. I had seen them when they were shown on tv in the late eighties (I think) and enjoyed them so I was looking forward to watching them again. Let’s just ignore the third part of the trilogy which is wrong on so many levels and makes me cross even though I think Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie give good performances. But it’s not based on any of the books even though there was plenty of material to use. The first film is, in my opinion, the best of the three. Whilst not sticking completely to the book, it is recognisable as the novel Lucy Maud published one hundred years ago. The Sequel is good too but it mixes up Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island and Anne of Windy Willows. I understand that film and books are different media but, even so, I don’t think it was necessary to do that. As I’ve said elsewhere, Anne of the Island is my favourite book and I was sorry that all of the Redmond years were ignored in this adaptation.
However, what these films do have is the emotion and spirit of the books. LM Montgomery has the power to make me laugh and cry (even on the umpteenth re-reading) and so do the Kevin Sullivan films. The cast is excellent and technically they seem to me superb. In my view, Megan Follows is wonderful as the young Anne but not quite so perfect in the Sequel. But she probably suffers from my comparison with Kim Braden who will always be Anne for me. Jonathan Crombie, on the other hand, is ideal as Gilbert and I can only wish that he had a bigger part in the second film. He seems to have completely got under the skin of Gilbert as I perceive him in the books and manages to convey both his conflicting emotions towards Anne and Gilbert’s personality beautifully. To my knowledge, I haven’t seen Jonathan Crombie in anything else but, on this performance, I’d be glad to!