YTV’s Anne of Green Gables celebrates family

It’s been more than 100 years since Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was first published, and more than 30 since Kevin Sullivan’s CBC mini-series that so many of my generation fondly remember. So YTV is banking on an appetite for another television take on the red-headed orphan for a new generation and for us Anne-a-holics.

The script by Susan Coyne (Slings and Arrows), directed by John Kent Harrison (The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler), reorders events of the novel and, with Martin Sheen in the role, beefs up the presence of taciturn Matthew Cuthbert. The two-hour TV movie also necessarily truncates the action. Gilbert lovers, for example, shouldn’t get their hopes up. The focus here is on the making of a family, related not by blood but by unanticipated love.

Anne, for those who grew up in a cave, is the story of an imaginative, misadventure-prone orphan who arrives at Green Gables, where sister and brother Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert were expecting a boy to help them with the farm.

Ella Ballentine plays Anne Shirley and though her mother had read the book to her when she was much younger, she worked with director Harrison to give the character new life based on the script rather than the novel. “She falls out of the stereotype of so many girls on television,” said the 13-year-old, who sees a bit of herself in the character. “We’re both very chatty and independent we don’t let anyone tell us not to do something.”

“She’s incredibly positive about the world around her. I try to be positive, but she sees a gloomy place and turns it into a fantastical world.”

Ballentine sees relevance to the story today, despite the old-fashioned costumes and lack of modern conveniences. “For younger audiences it shows them the history of Canada, when it wasn’t all about phones and computers. And it shows that you can have a terrible past and still find the good in things.”

Sara Botsford sees Marilla Cuthbert as a woman protective of her beloved brother Matthew. “Marilla’s a very hard working person and has been all her life. She hasn’t exactly had a life full of romance and joy. But she has a big heart and she can’t see how this girl is going to help her brother with the farm.”

Her take on Anne is similar to Ballentine’s. “She’s determined to have a good life and a happy life. She’s looking for joy wherever she can find it. She’s not beaten down by circumstance, she’s courageous and determined.”

For some parts of the country, the movie is premiering on Family Day, which Botsford points out is perfect timing. “It’s about three people who create a family together. Definitions of family have changed over the years. Anne’s a child who needs parents and they’re older people who need love and warmth in their lives, so these people create their own family.”

Anne of Green Gables airs Monday, February 15, on YTV.