Anne Shirley, a character of infinite imagination and compassion, emerged in the early 20th century and made a name for Canadian writer L.M. Montgomery. Her first novel, Anne of Green Gables, was a homegrown gem that spelled success for Montgomery throughout her lifetime, inspiring multiple sequels, spin-offs and adaptations.
The latest iteration of Montgomery’s beloved tale comes in the form of CBC’s Anne with an E (now streaming on CBC Gem), a co-production with Netflix that has also welcomed international fans into the fold, though certainly not for the first time.
What is it about the plucky orphaned girl that’s resonated beyond Canada’s borders? From radio shows to stage productions, web series to anime, the imaginative and outspoken character has made her way around the world and has voiced many different languages. Yet through it all, the spirit of Montgomery’s Anne has been maintained (mostly). A Canadian literary figure whose coming-of-age story has been embraced by generations of kindred spirits all over the world.
The United States of America
Our neighbours to the south first glommed onto Anne’s adventures with a 1919 silent film Anne of Green Gables starring Mary Miles Minter as the titular Anne and directed by William Desmond Taylor. Montgomery herself however was not pleased with the film’s interpretation of her work, especially making Anne American instead of Canadian and having her hold a shotgun at school defending her right to whip one of her students. Montgomery stated the film was “Such crass, blatant Yankeeism!”
The film’s reputation was further stained in 1922 when Taylor was murdered and love letters from Minter were discovered in his possession. She was never named an official suspect and his murder was never solved.
While copies of Taylor’s Anne of Green Gables no longer exists, what’s left of the stills have been pieced together to recreate the lost film.
It wasn’t until 1934 when director George Nicholls Jr. and actress Dawn O’Day brought Anne Shirley back to the silver screen with their adaptation of the same name, devoid of any scandals. This role prompted O’Day to change her screen name to Anne Shirley and was billed as such with the sequel, Anne of Windy Poplars in 1940.
In 1993, Montgomery’s original story became public domain, and with it creative licence to adapt it became anyone’s game. This is the case with 2015’s Ana of California: A Novel by Andi Terran. This version re-imagines Anne Shirley as Ana Cortez, a contemporary 15-year old orphan who moves from Los Angeles to a northern California farm to live with the Garbers.
Meanwhile, Prince Edward Island may be the most famous place for bringing Anne to the stage, but an Anne-themed production at the 2013 New York Musical Theatre Festival called Bend in the Road wowed audiences in the Big Apple.
The United Kingdom
BBC Radio was the first to bring Anne to the airwaves with a four-part miniseries starring Cherry Cottrell in 1941. They would continue to adapt this story in 1944, 1971 (narrated by Ann “without an E” Murray so not THAT Anne Murray), and again in 1997 with Barbara Barnes as Anne.
Britain also produced a number of television series, miniseries and movies including a TV series titled (you guessed it) Anne of Green Gables in 1952 starring Carole Lorimer. Then in 1972, a made-for-television miniseries starring Kim Braden was released followed by its sequel in 1975 called Anne of Avonlea which saw Anne begin a new job as a teacher and pursue a writing career.
Then Czechoslovakia’s only dip into the “lake of shining waters” came in the form of a radio drama in 1966 called Anna zo Zeleného domu.
Fast forward to 2015 when Finland updated the tale with a web series called Project Green Gables. This retelling was presented in the form of vlogs for a more modern audience.
In the southern hemisphere, a stage production of Anne of Green Gables first took place in Melbourne, Australia in 1996 and was a sold-out hit. It was adapted by Australian playwright Julia Britton and stage and film director Robert Chuter who were long time collaborators.
While all foreign adaptations of Montgomery’s beloved story left their mark one way or another, none had as lasting an effect on its audience than the Japanese anime series Akage no An (translated to Red-Haired Anne) from Nippon Animation and directed by Isao Takahata. This 1979 TV series has been distributed to other countries worldwide and dubbed in Italian, Spanish, French, Portugese, and German and drew more attention to the original source material.