Canadians can head back to Green Gables before February is finished.
In “L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars” (Part 2 of a three-part TV movie), the beloved Anne Shirley (Ella Ballentine) turns 13 and faces a host of new milestones: first sleepovers, culinary misadventures and shifting relationships with her “bosom” friend Diana and academic rival/love interest Gilbert Blythe.
The TV movie provides a sweet, heartwarming alternative to the shows kids are watching these days, and series star Martin Sheen (“The West Wing”, “Apocalypse Now”), who takes on the role of Matthew, found filming the movie to be wholly therapeutic. This version of Anne, shot just outside of Toronto, is one of three brand-new iterations hitting Canadian airwaves in the next year. It is, however, the only one to have L.M. Montgomery’s granddaughter and overseer of her estate, Kate Macdonald Butler, fully onboard and part of the creative process.
Part 1 aired on Family Day in 2016, so it’s been a year since we last visited Anne. Global News dropped by the set of “Anne of Green Gables” in the fall, and we spoke to the cast about the upcoming end, how this movie is multi-generational and why this sort of production has a place on modern TV. Oh, and we also made toffee (as you can watch in the Facebook Live video, below).
This movie is appropriate for every age group
In an era of super-violent, heavily dramatic, gory TV shows, “Anne” always provides a safe place to escape to, especially for Canadians. There’s a certain meaningfulness to the character, almost as if Canada has the rights to the mischievous redhead. The story of Anne Shirley transcends time, and it’s a unique story that grandmothers, mothers and granddaughters can watch together.
“This incarnation, they want it to appeal to the kids of today,” said Sara Botsford, who plays the hard-yet-loving Marilla. “Let’s face it, kids today are sophisticated. If you’re 13 and watching ‘Game of Thrones’, how are we going to get you to watch ‘Anne of Green Gables’? The story has an enduring quality, and it’s extraordinary to me when I mention I’m acting in it to people in the U.S., and the inevitable reaction is a gasp and ‘Oh my God! I love ‘Anne of Green Gables’!’”
“Not to sound cliché, but I think it’s the honesty of it,” she continued. “It’s a real … people can identify with Anne. She’s on the outside of a community, she’s alone. When we meet her, she has no friends, she’s suffered the loss of her parents and family, she’s an orphan. She has to deal with all of those challenges and she finds a family, a home and a community. Their lives, in turn, are enriched by her. Everybody experiences loss, everybody experiences loneliness, trying to fit in, and because Anne is so optimistic … everybody wants to root for her.”
There’s no such thing as ‘too much’ Anne
With three versions of the “Anne” story coming out over the next year, some may argue that it’s overkill to have so many out there. Kate Macdonald Butler, granddaughter of the author of Anne of Green Gables, believes that there can never be too much of a good thing.
“This is a classic. It deserves to be told again,” said Butler. “It’s an adaptation of the novel, and people really identify with the characters. Anne is such an enduring character — we all love her.”
“Anne of Green Gables is something that can be told again and again and again,” she continued. “You need to be careful and space them out, and it’s been about 30 years since the Sullivan version [the ’80s version]. It’s a whole new generation! Every generation deserves an Anne.”
The Anne Shirley in this TV movie isn’t exactly like the ‘original’ Anne Shirley
In a sense, Ballentine has grown up while shooting this movie. Just like Anne, Ballentine is now in her early teens (15 to be exact), so it’s easier for her to understand the problems she’s facing. Indeed, Ballentine has grown into a poised young woman, and carries a confidence with her as she excitedly plops down for her interview. At times, while talking, she exudes what resembles Anne’s unbridled enthusiasm.
“I love playing Anne, I really do,” said Ballentine. “In [Part 2], she’s a little different. She’s more comfortable in Avonlea, and she’s more settled. I think that’s true for the cast too. We’re all used to it, and there’s more of a rhythm. I’m very excited for Part 3, since she’ll be my age and become more mature.”
“She’s going through a lot of things that teens go through, she’s dealing with friends and experiencing love,” she continued. “It’s really fun. Back in Anne’s time, you became an adult at a much younger age and had to deal with hard realities.”
“I see a lot of myself in Anne. She loves to talk, she just keeps going. [Laughs] Since we’ve done the film, I’ve been trying to be more positive about everything. She’s independent and doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do. I think a lot of us would be happier if we tried to be more like Anne.”
Martin Sheen, an American, fell in love with the story and had to join the project
The idea that “Anne” is Canadian territory is universal, so it’s always surprising to hear about mega “Anne” fanbases in places like Sweden, Poland and Japan. Sheen, widely considered an A-list star, is usually met with raised eyebrows when he says he’s taking part in a TV movie like this. But according to the actor, the importance of family and solid values are what drew him to the movie.
“It’s the courage of generosity, the virtue of giving,” said Sheen philosophically. “In the end, ‘Anne’ is about love. Like any classic, it can be done with any number of interpretations and it has validity. There’s enough room for more. I think doing it now is really important because young people don’t have a lot of stories to hang their hopes on. They’re stuck with these horrible stories … they get a very negative reflection of themselves and their communities, their families and their looks. The peer pressure has become monumental.”
“The story is timeless, and every child [or] teenager is entitled to a little inspiration.”
“L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars” airs on YTV on Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. ET/PT.