Back to prime time
Those involved with the iconic Anne of Green Gables brand hope the new CBC television series stays true to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book
Those involved with the iconic Anne of Green Gables brand hope for a hit.
Anne of Green Gables is grabbing her slate and carpet bag and heading back to prime time. This time, she might break with tradition, though.
Fans of the beloved red-haired orphan are waiting to see if an eight-episode TV series lives up to expectations. The series, simply called “Anne’’, will go into production this spring and debut on CBC in 2017.
The international co-production is created, written and executive-produced by “Breaking Bad’’ writer Moira Walley-Beckett. CBC says the series will follow the book’s coming-of-age storyline but “will also chart new territory’’.
YTV will also air the two-hour TV movie “Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables’’ on Feb. 15, starring well known actor Martin Sheen as Matthew Cuthbert.
Mary Beth Cavert, an independent scholar who co-edits The Shining Scroll, a newsletter for the L.M. Montgomery Literary Society, is crossing her fin- gers that the new series is true to the book Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote in 1905.
“We all want to like it but we don’t if know we will,’’ Cavert told The Guardian in an interview from her home in Minnesota. “Charting new territory means they can go anywhere.’’
Cavert says she represents people who have read the book and has encountered numerous people who have only been exposed to the story through the televised versions, especially the popular 1985 Kevin Sullivan miniseries that starred Megan Follows as Anne Shirley.
More than two dozen different adaptations have been brought to TV, film and the stage over the years.
Cavert doesn’t want to see Anne Shirley in a contemporary setting, noting the beauty of
Montgomery’s language in the book.
“My focus is the text of her memory.’’
What the CBC series signals is that the story still resonates with people and remains just as profitable as ever.
Adam Brazier, artistic director for the Confederation Centre of the Arts, said Anne Shirley is a very enduring character that has withstood the test of time. But there are no guarantees every version will honour the book.
“Like any piece of classic literature it’s always going to be open for adaptation,’’ said Brazier. “I’m always trepidatious that someone is going to try to remake it.’’
Still, he says there are different ways to tell a story. While Anne of Green Gables: The Musical continues to be a staple on the centre’s main stage, Brazier points to the success of the musical Anne & Gilbert (it’s selling out at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa) as proof people want more Anne.
“As long as people are true to Lucy Maud Montgomery, I think you’ll be fine. It’s when things deviate from the story, when things happen that didn’t happen in the books, that you get into trouble.’’
Campbell Webster, president of Anne & Gilbert Inc., said the characters in the books are considered as much a part of P.E.I. as the red soil.
“These characters are universal . . . who exist deep inside many people’s hearts around the world,’’ Webster said. “It’s an appeal that is literally never ending.’’
Webster says 10 years has been spent on developing the new stage show, adding that the CBC “Anne’’ series is further proof of powerful branding.
Sheela Brennan with Cows Inc., which operates the Avonlea Village attraction in Cavendish, said they see more people every time the Sullivan miniseries airs in the United States.
“We immediately, the following summer, get traffic from the (United) States that watched the show,’’ Brennan said. “There is no doubt in my mind that every time that Anne of Green Gables is aired anywhere we see traffic coming to the Island.’’
For Brennan, the enduring appeal can be traced directly to Montgomery’s writing.
“People want to come and see the place Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote about. It’s the cliffs and the shoreline and the trees and the red dirt roads and the entire Island. She wrote so vividly about it that people want to come here to see it . . . and they’re not disappointed when they come.’’
Brenda Gallant, director of marketing communications for the Department of Tourism, said Anne in almost any form boosts visitation.
The number of Japanese tourists to the province doubled in 2014 thanks to the hit NHK drama about the first Japanese translator of Montgomery’s novel.
“Anne is synonymous with Prince Edward Island,’’ Gallant said, adding that the story just seems to put the Island in people’s minds when it airs. “We really have Lucy Maud Montgomery to thank for that. She really might be our best ambassador.’’
In a news release, Walley-Beckett said the CBC series will tackle issues around identity, sexism, bullying, prejudice and trusting one’s self.
“Anne’s issues are contemporary issues: feminism, prejudice, bullying and a desire to belong. The stakes are high and her emotional journey is tumultuous. I’m thrilled to delve deeply into this resonant story, push the boundaries and give it new life,’’ Walley-Beckett said.
Brennan said the CBC and YTV productions will create a new generation of Anne fans.
“It’s alive and well.’’
Katie Kerr poses for the Charlottetown Festival’s production of Anne of Green Gables in this 2013 handout photo. She played the iconic role again in 2014.
Ella Ballentine as Anne Shirley and Martin Sheen as Matthew Cuthbert appear in a scene from the TV movie, “Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Of Green Gables.”
Megan Follows appears as Anne Shirley in the 1985 miniseries by Sullivan Entertainment.
Anne of Green Gables: The Animated Series is a half-hour animated television show produced by Sullivan Entertainment and created by writer/director/producer Kevin Sullivan. The series was developed for PBS.
Brittany Banks, choreographer for Anne and Gilbert, which has run at The Guild in Charlottetown the last several summers, portrays the redhaired heroine in this Guardian file photo promoting the show.