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

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - dstew­art@the­guardian.pe.ca Twit­ter.com/DveSte­wart

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.’’

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

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.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

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.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Megan Fol­lows ap­pears as Anne Shirley in the 1985 minis­eries by Sul­li­van En­ter­tain­ment.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

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.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

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.

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