Pros: Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie, the New York segment, the Road to Avonlea promo
Cons: no relation to the books, depressing, very different tone
I've been on a bit of an Anne of Green Gables kick for the last couple of months, ever since I pulled out the first two Kevin Sullivan miniseries on a whim and watched them. We own the third, but it arrived completely mangled, and we never got around to going to our local PBS affiliate and requesting a new copy. So I decided to refresh my memory of the third installment courtesy of Netflix. I remembered Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story fairly well, but it had been nearly a decade since I'd watched it. I'm glad I saw it again, but I really don't think we're missing out on much by not owning it. This isn't a miniseries likely to get a lot of repeat viewings.
In reading up a bit on this production, which came out in 2000, I learned that Kevin Sullivan was in the midst of a dispute with the family of series author L. M. Montgomery. One might think that under such circumstances, he wouldn't make another movie with Anne as the subject, but he went ahead and did it, evidently free to use Montgomery's characters but not allowed to replicate any of her plots. Hence, making a faithful adaptation was impossible. Nonetheless, Sullivan and co-writer Laurie Pearson took enormous liberties with the story and characters, so that even fans of the miniseries who've never read the books might object to the drastic shift in tone.
The first two miniseries have their share of darkness, but for the most part they are fairly light and funny and thoroughly heartwarming and life-affirming. The Continuing Story, by contrast, is pretty dreary right from the get-go. Within minutes, Anne (Megan Follows), who has been away on a teaching position with an orphanage, beholds Green Gables and nearly gets into a fight with its cranky owner, who is content to let the house of Anne's happiest years fall into squalor. As usual, we see far too little of Gilbert (Jonathan Crombie), and while he's clearly devoted to Anne, he spends most of the movie seeming exhausted and depressed. Similarly, Diana (Schuyler Grant), who has grown up into a proper lady rather like her mother, fears her marriage to Fred (Greg Spottiswood) is falling apart. He's surly all the time, right up until he sneaks off to join his comrades in World War I, leaving Gilbert to explain things to Diana - and to find his own sense of duty stirred.
Probably my favorite portion of the movie occurs when not-yet-married Anne and Gilbert are living in New York. Initially, I thought they were co-habitating, which seemed a little odd for early 20th-century devout Christians, but a throwaway line from Gilbert explains that they have separate apartments. Gilbert longs to make a difference as a doctor, while his superiors seem keen to limit his skills to healing the prestigious members of society. Anne gets an in with a publishing company and strikes up a friendship with suave Jack Garrison (Cameron Daddo), a bestselling adventure novelist, who insists that her work has potential and might actually reach a decent audience if his name were attached to it. There are hints of romance between these two from Jack's end, but Anne keeps very firm boundaries. It's nice to see her actively pursuing her writing dreams, which she abandons in the novels by the time she and Gilbert are married, and there's some humor and spunk in the way she deals with her curmudgeonly boss and his rather persnickety assistant.
In the books, by the time World War I hits, Anne and Gilbert are around 50 years old. But this movie takes place only five years after Anne and Gilbert's engagement, which puts them in their mid-20s. Montgomery does write in some detail about the war in Rilla of Ingleside, but it's from the home front perspective, and neither Anne nor Gilbert ever come anywhere near a combat situation. But here, Gilbert is guilted into signing on as a trauma surgeon, and Anne decides to spend the bulk of the war traipsing around Europe searching for him. So instead of idyllic Avonlea, we spend most of the movie in one war zone or another, as Anne absurdly searches for Gilbert, making a nuisance of herself as often as not. In the process, she manages to track down Fred and get tangled up with Jack again, which leads to a fulfilling writing job but also a dangerous mission. Moreover, despite her obsession with finding Gilbert, she grows somewhat uncomfortably close to both Fred and Jack during this time.
Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea are both family films, but I wouldn't say there's much here to hold the interest of children. There are basically no juvenile characters, with the exception of Jack's infant son, and the movie has a very adult, bleak tone. War is raging, so there is violence and peril as well as hints of marital discord and extramarital tomfoolery. Rarely do we get to see Anne's sparkling smile; Follows still plays Anne well, but this Anne spends so much of her time depressed, she's not a very uplifting character. All the old faces are fine for what they have to work with, but the writers have bathed everyone in disillusionment, making Anne feel like Ring-tormented Frodo, Avonlea like the polluted Shire. I suppose it's somewhat interesting to put Anne in such a different setting, but I don't think most Anne fans really want heart-racing adventure. They'd prefer the simple pleasures and mishaps Montgomery details in most of her books.
To that end, they may find themselves more drawn to the Special Feature, which is a rather extended promo for the episode of the television series Road to Avonlea in which Marilla dies and Green Gables falls into the hands of land-grubbing neighbor Mr. Harrison. I wish the whole episode had just been included; the clips are wonderful, quite touching and occasionally funny despite the dark circumstances. There's little humor to be found in The Continuing Story, whether it's Fred glowering at the world or Anne in hysterics as she asks every nurse in France if she's seen her husband. If you're a fan of Sullivan's previous Anne projects, you'll probably want to check this out, but don't expect the same level of satisfaction. You may also want to look into Montgomery's later books, especially Anne's House of Dreams, to see how Montgomery covered this period of Anne's life. For me, The Continuing Story is an interesting but dreary side trip, and I don't think I'll ever be able to think of it on the same level as Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea.
Books: Anne of Green Gables * Anne of Avonlea * Anne of the Island * Anne of Windy Poplars * Anne's House of Dreams * Anne of Ingleside * Rainbow Valley * Rilla of Ingleside * Before Green Gables
Movies: Anne of Green Gables * Anne of Avonlea