Anne brings red-haired chaos to a quiet, distant world


The new "Anne of Green Gables" movie arrives on Thanksgiving night, bringing low-key family fun. Here's the story I sent to papers.

 

By Mike Hughes

Today's young
readers and viewers know all about adventure.

They know demons and
dragons, specters and sorcerers and vampires and such. Many of them,
however, haven't yet met the crises of Anne Shirley.

“My life's a
never-ending tragedy of grievous accidents, one after another,”
Anne says in the movie that debuts Thursday on PBS.

Such as? Well, she
burns toffee ... and burns one pie, then puts medicine in another.
Also, she inadvertently dyes her hair green.

Such disasters may
not impress the Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games crowd, but they're
still big in some places. “Everyone growing up in Canada knows
'Anne of Green Gables,'” said Ella Ballentine, 16, who stars in the
new film.

She's Canadian, as
are most of the people involved. The interloper (playing her foster
father) is Martin Sheen, 77, who's a fan of the country. “I know
no one is carrying a gun,” he said. “I have nothing they want or
need .... It is very much a culture that I grew up with in Dayton,
Ohio, in the '50s. (People have) a sense of compassion and humor.”

But this story goes
way beyond the relative serenity of modern Canada. “Anne” was
written in 1908 and set on Prince Edward Island. For a city kid from
Toronto, this might seem distant ... or not.

“I could really
relate to this from my great-great-grandmother” who lived to 102,
Ballentine said. “She grew up on a farm and went to a school very
much like Anne's.”

In the books, this
is a quiet world ... entered by an 11-year-old orphan with red hair
and wild notions. She complicates the lives of the elderly siblings
(Sheen and Sara Botsford) who took her in.

“Anne and I are
very similar,” Ballentine said. “I tend to be very talkative,
very energetic .... I definitely overthink things, the way she does.”

But her world is far
from Anne's. She grew up in Toronto, where her father works as a key
grip in the film industry. “My dad didn't want me to (act),” she
said. “He saw so many kids it was hard on.”

Except the kids who
have starred in Anne. One then kept the name “Anne Shirley” as
her own and acted for another decade, getting an Oscar nomination;
another (Megan Follows) has drawn raves on stage and on TV.
Ballentine has already drawn praise and nominations in the stage “Les
Miserables” and the R-rated movie “Monster.”

Making it easier to
become Anne was filming this in a historic village ... and getting a
dye job. “Having red hair helped me get into the character,” she
said.

Botsford understands
that. Born with red hair, she recently read a book on some of the
expectations redheads face. People guess they'll “be devilish,
feisty, hot-tempered, difficult, stubborn, mischief-makers .... If
you're told that enough when you're 3, 4 years old, it gives you an
awful lot of room.”

And Anne Shirley
needs that room. As this second movie begins, she's turning 13 and
desperate to be like other people. “From this moment, I'll be
completely and utterly sensible,” she vows.

Don't count on it.
She still disrupts the pies, the toffee and the lives in this
peaceful place.

-- “Anne of Green
Gables: The Good Stars,” 8 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 23), PBS.

-- Second film in a
trilogy. Last year's “Anne of Green Gables” reruns at 9:30.