Three different versions of our Anne-girl.
L.M. Montgomery’s classic, Anne of Green Gables has inspired dozens and dozens of Annes on film and television since the book’s original publication in 1908. But, to my mind, there are only three worth real consideration: First, the famous and extremely popular 1985 adaptation that starred Megan Follows, long considered the modern gold standard of Montgomery’s vision. And then there have been two new versions causing quite a flutter recently, with fresh takes on Carrots and her fellow Prince Edward Island adventurers. The first came out late 2016 and aired in the U.S. chiefly on PBS stations (though the first installment is currently available to Amazon Prime streaming subscribers). The second debuted on Netflix in 2017.
So how do they stack up? Are any of these new Annes worthy of the Lake of Shining Waters or puff sleeves? I’m spitting out my lime once more, setting down my glass of gin, and cracking my knuckles in anticipation of another great showdown between rival cinematic loves. Just as with the Longbourn Showdown (Ahem, Pride and Prejudice fans), this will be much like Thunderdome, but with ipecac and red currant wine! So scoop the mouse out of the plumb pudding sauce and get ready!
Megan Follows vs. Ella Ballentine vs. Amybeth McNulty
I thought my Anne would always be Megan Follows, whose 1985 take was dramatically serious in her imagination and fantasies. Every dream and speech was an audition for play, a sworn oath, with her gaze constantly averted skyward, and it was easy to imagine that Follows’s Anne was maybe destined for the stage. She never lacked sweetness, but came across as a bit more self-centered, at least, at first. And she was always a bit embarrassing. But I just took it for granted that this was sort of baked into the character.
In 2016, we got a fresh Anne from Ella Ballentine. And I’m just gonna say it–she’s awful. Sure her look is sweetly generic, but her freckles are irritatingly fake, as is her grin, and her overly sunny disposition plays as a carefree girl who could make it anywhere. She’s the Mary Tyler Moore of Avonlea. Plus, Ballentine reminds me of a young Lindsey Lohan. And that thought hobbles me like smelling cheap whiskey. I’ve been burned before.
By 2017, we got a very different Anne from Amybeth McNulty. Darker, grittier, and slightly traumatizing to my youth, retroactively. McNulty has a very distinct look that isn’t too adorable or charming. Like a young Shelley Duvall. She’s the orphan that’s a little more difficult for the residents of Avonlea to welcome. And, this is a traumatized Anne who is precocious, but also damaged. She is appropriately distrusting, but still sees the wonder in people and moments. In fact, McNulty’s Anne strikes just the right chord between fear, passion, and silly-heartedness.
This is a tough call. But for age, tone, and looks, McNulty’s Anne is the most believable. She seems real and touching, even with all her imperfections. I’m so sorry to slight Megan Follows this way. She was wonderful, but she was played the role a bit too old, and lacked a certain brightness of youth that McNulty can pull off poetically.
Winner: Amybeth McNulty as Anne Shirley
Colleen Dewhurst vs. Sara Botsford vs. Geraldine James
Three brilliant women who do a great service to one of my favorite literary characters of all time: Marilla Cuthbert. Geraldine James’s take stands out the most as a little bit harder around the edges, which matches her version’s tone. Still, she manages to thaw beautifully, as does each of our Marillas. Sara Botsford was maybe a little too accommodating and lovable, making her Marilla a little shallower and easy to please. Almost too easy.
But I note that while grasping for criticism. All the ladies are wonderful. But there must be one winner! And of course, it has to be Colleen Dewhurst. Our husky-voiced Marilla knows how to be harsh and deep, but incredibly loving all the same. Her boisterous anger at the neighbors is brilliant, and yet she can be subtle in her emotions. She is simply perfect, and I wish our Marilla was still around.