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Monday, July 01, 2013

Anne of Green Gables

The Canada Day long weekend of nearly 100% Canadian content concludes with an...interesting twist on a classic standard.

I knew well ahead of time that Canada Day would fall on a Monday. I'll also be the first one to admit that of the entire Canada Day long weekend, this day would be the one that would give me the most headaches.

Traditionally speaking, Canadian films have been largely ignored in the rest of the world. Canadian made films traditionally don't do very well at the box office (if they're even released in theatres in the first place). In fact, the last successful film that I can remember over the last ten years to be filmed entirely in Canada and starred mostly Canadian actors was the 2004 remake of the 1978 zombie classic “Dawn of the Dead”.

(I mean, don't get me wrong...I liked it and all...but still.)

So, to come up with a movie that was filmed entirely in Canada that most everyone has heard of? That was a humongous challenge.

Granted, many films that have been made within Canada many CANADIANS have not even seen yet, and I think that it's a real shame because many of them are quite good.

I mean, take a look at director David Cronenberg. He's released such critically acclaimed films as 1983's “Videodrome”, 1986's “The Fly”, 1996's “Crash” and 2005's “A History of Violence”. But, how many of you reading this blog right now will admit to even seeing one of these films?

I know that with the exception of “Videodrome” and “The Fly”, I can't say I remember seeing any of Cronenberg's films. I should make an effort to seek out some of them, because I think I should probably do at least one entry on one of his works.

(Reading between the lines, you already know that a Cronenberg film is NOT the subject for today.)

Atom Egoyan is another well-respected Canadian filmmaker, and the only reason I know so much about his works is because I watched a couple of them in various film studies classes that I took when I was a college student. If you get a chance to, check out 1994's “Exotica” and 1997's “The Sweet Hereafter”. Both are stunning pieces of film and well worth checking out. But, even though “The Sweet Hereafter” was nominated for a couple of Academy Awards in 1997, I have a feeling that not a lot of people remember watching it, and I really wanted to conclude this entry with a subject in which people all over the world could remember watching.

So, you see the dilemma that I was facing. How could I feature a Canadian made film that millions of people have heard of when Canadian films are often ignored by the general public.

It was at this point that I decided that the only way that I was going to make this work would be if I thought outside of the box.

If I couldn't decide on a feature film to spotlight, surely I could come up with another idea.

Not all movies premiere at a movie theatre with the red carpet premieres, the overpriced concession stands, and a gigantic movie screen. Some movies are specifically made for a television audience. Many television networks set aside budgets for made-for-TV movies, and some networks like “Lifetime” and “The Hallmark Channel” have had a ton of success with a plethora of films made specifically for television.

So, I decided to do some research on Canadian themed made-for-TV movies, and thought that by looking at the list of films over the last thirty years, I could be inspired to come up with a topic for today's Monday Matinee.

And, let's just say that I struck gold.

This film was actually a two-part miniseries. It debuted on the CBC network on December 5, 1985, and the four-hour miniseries was based off of a classic literary work by author Lucy Maud Montgomery. The book was about a red-haired thirteen year old orphan girl who has been adopted by two middle-aged siblings, and the adventures that she has growing up on their Prince Edward Island farm.

The girl's name was Anne Shirley. And, she was...

Anne of Green Gables.

Yes, I have decided to make today's Monday Matinee a television miniseries. But there's a very good reason why I have chosen such a classic to spotlight in this space for today. Firstly, the miniseries (which was filmed entirely in Canada) was based on a novel by a woman who was born in Canada. You can't get much Canadian than that.

Secondly, the miniseries is easily considered to be one of the most successful productions to ever come out of Canada, almost twenty-eight years after it was released. It was one of the highest-rated television movies of any genre to come out of Canada, and that success was repeated in the United States when the miniseries was broadcast on PBS in February 1986.

Thirdly, with the exception of a couple of actors and actresses involved in the production of “Anne of Green Gables”, the vast majority of cast and crew were Canadian.

And, lastly, the miniseries was so successful on CBC that it spawned at least two more films released in 1987 and 2000 respectively, as well as the long-running Canadian television series spin-off “Road to Avonlea”, which ran between 1990 and 1996 on CBC and The Disney Channel.

In the title role of Anne Shirley was the then unknown actress Megan Follows. The Toronto-born actress was seventeen years old when she won the role of the thirteen-year-old Anne. At first, director/producer/writer Kevin Sullivan wasn't sure if Follows was the best choice for the role, as he believed that the girl in her late teens could not convincingly play a thirteen-year-old. But Follows was persistent, and she was given the part, beating out at least three thousand other young girls who auditioned!

To Kevin Sullivan's credit, the miniseries follows along quite closely with the plot of Lucy Maud Montgomery's book. The only really major difference was that some of the events in the book were reordered in the film, and that there is a few scenes added into the miniseries that didn't appear in the book to help with continuity purposes.

The miniseries begins as we are introduced to Anne, who at the age of thirteen is not a very happy girl. Granted, looking back at my own experiences, age thirteen was a really bad year for me myself, but everything that I experienced during that period is NOTHING compared to what Anne had to deal with.

You see, Anne is introduced as a servant to the Hammond family in Nova Scotia, Canada. And the Hammonds are not exactly the nicest people in the world to work for. Poor Anne has to endure the family's constant cruelty and lack of compassion. It must have been so hard for her to go through that.

But when the patriarch of the Hammond family passes away, Anne is sent to live in an orphanage, freeing her of the indignities she had to suffer through while she was at the Hammond residence. Anne is later overjoyed to learn that she has been adopted by a Prince Edward Island couple, and when she arrives at the train station, she meets Matthew Cuthbert (Richard Farnsworth), who is stunned to see the flame-haired GIRL waiting for them. The Cuthburts had specifically requested a BOY to help them around their farm with the chores and work. But Matthew has an incredibly open-minded spirit, and his soft heart is charmed by the young girl. By the time that Anne meets Matthew's sister, Marilla (Colleen Dewhurst), Anne is immediately welcomed into the household.

But while Matthew is convinced that Anne can do no wrong, Marilla is a little less than welcoming towards Anne, who proves to be a major handful for her.

For one, Marilla is unable to cope with Anne's headstrong nature, and her penchant for saying things before thinking. Case in point, the relationship that Anne shares with neighbour and town gossip Rachel Lynde is best described as...interesting. Here are a few highlights below.

And, then there's Anne's little feud with classmate Gilbert Blythe (Jonathan Crombie), with whom Anne has an initially volatile relationship with. Let's just say that if you ever refer to Anne as a carrot, you might end up seeing stars, as poor Gilbert learned the hard way.

Truth be told, if there was one thing that Anne was the most self-conscious about was her hair. It was probably the reddest hair that one could have seen in all of Prince Edward Island, which made her stand out in a huge way. And, unfortunately for Anne, not all people were kind.

SOMEWHAT RELATED RANT: I don't quite understand the disdain that some people have towards red-haired people. I think red-haired people should be proud of their hair! It's one of the rarest natural hair colours to have, and that makes it special. So, lay off of the insults towards them, because it's not cool. After all, your insults may make the person with red hair feel so bad that they might attempt to dye their hair black, only for it to turn a sickly shade of green.

And, yes...that did actually happen to Anne in the film and the movie.

Anyway, back to the story of Anne of Green Gables.

As the story progresses, Marilla's opinion of Anne slowly starts to warm, and she grows to love the precocious girl. Matthew continues to be a doting parent to Anne and he teaches her a lot about what life is all about. And, gradually over time, her disdain towards her classmate Gilbert starts to thaw, even though both maintain a rivalry of sorts when it comes to education purposes. Though, somehow, Anne still manages to find some way of getting into mischief. And, well...getting her best friend drunk unintentionally certainly qualifies.

I don't really want to go into too much more detail about the plot because I really want you all to watch this miniseries. It truly is a wonderful Canadian masterpiece, and I think that if you really want to get a true feel of what Canada was like in its infancy, this miniseries is almost a perfect representation. But I can offer you a few clues as to what to expect.

Anne loses someone very dear towards the end of the book.
Anne is given the opportunity of a lifetime...but will she take it?
The relationship between Gilbert and Anne takes an interesting twist.

So, that's our look back on the 1985 miniseries, “Anne of Green Gables”, and I will say this. If you don't get a chance to view the miniseries, at least read the book. It is an outstanding piece of Canadian literature.

To conclude this entry off, would you like to know a few behind the scenes trivia about the miniseries? I bet you do.

01 – Schuyler Grant was one of the 3,000 actresses who was turned down for a part in the miniseries. But, don't worry. She still managed to get a part. She was given the role of Anne's friend Diana Barry.

02 – Mag Ruffman (who played Alice Lawson) would later have a co-starring role in the television spin-off “Road to Avonlea”.

03 – The final scene filmed for the miniseries was actually one of the very first scenes to be shown! It was the clip where Mrs. Hammond delivers Anne to the orphanage.

04 – Would you believe that Katharine Hepburn was once considered for the role of Marilla Cuthbert? She did turn it down, but ironically enough, her great-niece, Schuyler Grant was cast (see point #1).

05 – Do you want to know what the very first scene filmed was? It was the one with Marilla and Anne walking back home after Anne “apologizes” to Rachel.

06 – The miniseries won a record ten Gemini Awards in 1986, and was even awarded an Emmy that same year for “Outstanding Children's Program”.

07 – Kevin Sullivan was awarded a Peabody Award in 1986 for “Anne of Green Gables”.

08 – The miniseries was actually released theatrically in Japan, Iran, Israel, and parts of Europe! Considering that the miniseries without commercial breaks was a whopping 199 minutes in length, I am hoping that they had lots of popcorn to snack on!

And, that wraps up our Monday Matinee, as well as Canada Day weekend.

Happy Canada Day, everybody. Don your red and white with pride, have a barbecued burger for me, and set off fireworks responsibly!

Canada, 146 never looked so good!

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