Throughout this film, I kept asking myself: "Who let the air out?" The story did seem to go along like a balloon, hanging close to the grown, the air slowly seeping out. All the ingredients were there, fine performers, beautiful photography, an interesting story...so why do things still seem so amiss?
Had this film been a standalone story, with no connection to Anne Shirley, I think it would have been much better received. The tragic upbringing of young Anne was heartrending...but didn't ring true.
There were fine points to this film, to be sure. The final monologue by the middle-aged Anne Shirley, sitting on the veranda at Green Gables and writing, was beautiful:
"Everything that's happened in my life, the good and the bad, is more than I could have ever made up. I do long to write, and I will write about all of it. My life has been unexpected, exceptional really. Eventually, the more love a person gives, the easier it is to find. That's the only part that matters, nothing else. And it's so much nicer to be Anne of Green Gables than to be Anne of nowhere in particular."
That last line brought a tear to my eye, because it's full of so much truth. However, most of the rest of the film was flat in comparison. I shan't criticize Sullivan's deviation from the books, as he was not permitted to adapt any more of the novels (which was the right decision, given the debacle that was Anne 3.) Sullivan did, however, stay truer to the television "Avonlea" universe in this film. In the series "Road to Avonlea" Anne and Gilbert were married when Marilla died, however in Anne 3, she has long since died when the Blythes finally marry. There are no such plot holes in this film, thankfully.
Many of the performances in this film were quite good. I think Barbara Hershey was rather fine as Anne. Hannah Endicott-Douglas was an inspired choice as young Anne, at times bearing an uncanny similarity to Megan Follows in appearance and delivery. Rachel Blanchard, who I was mostly familiar with through her performance as Cher in the series "Clueless," has shown that she is quite a capable dramatic actress.
I have always admired and enjoyed Shirley MacLaine. In this film, however, she seems to be phoning it in. I was left wondering if there had been script changes she didn't like after signing on the dotted line. That is mere supposition on my part, however.
Sullivan's direction and writing, while adequate, don't really serve the performers well. There's a pitch to the performances that doesn't always ring true. It feels as if Kevin Sullivan kept asking them to make it bigger and bigger, until it was just TOO big.
Another issue I had with the film was the way the characters motivations were a complete departure from what had gone before. Anne as a liar...one can believe a child from such circumstances doing the things young Anne did to hide her painful background. However, this is simply not Anne. For all her faults, Anne's saving grace was her honesty. That is missing here. Also, Marilla hiding the letter from Anne's father was unbelievable. While Marilla may have been reluctant, she was a woman with a strong sense of duty and of right and wrong. It is the essence of her character, and that was disposed of without a thought.
There were a few interesting uses of stock footage in this film that actually work rather well. The Colleen Dewhurst footage was seamless, and quite welcome.
Jayne Eastwood returning briefly as the cruel Mrs. Hammond was well played. Eastwood recreated the vocal part of her earlier performance perfectly. We only see her in long shot, so she doesn't seemed to have aged at all. That was nicely done.
Patricia Hamilton's cameo as Rachel Lynde was most welcome, and it's good to know she and Hetty King are still going strong (however it is implied that Hetty King is standing next to Rachel, but there was no attempt to cast an extra that resembled Jackie Burroughs.)
Despite the serious flaws in direction and storytelling, "Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning" was an interesting, and sporadically entertaining evening of television viewing for me. While I understand what Kevin Sullivan was trying to accomplish, I really do think it's time that he put Anne to bed. I was never one of those fans who clamored for another sequel. I would have been happy if we had simply been left to imagine what happened to Anne and Gilbert after they declared their love on the bridge. I always hoped that it would inspire young and old alike to explore the books by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
Taken on its own merits, the film can be enjoyed, but only if one can divorce it from all that has come before in the Anne franchise.
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