The first two Anne of Green Gables miniseries in 1985 and 1986 were a critical success, sumptuously filmed and presenting an idyllic small-town world that audiences were entranced with. Kevin Sullivan began to consider the idea of revisiting the world of Avonlea, albeit in a new light.
In the book, Anne of Green Gables: A Journey, Sullivan says that he became interested in creating a dream-world set in Prince Edward Island, that would be an antidote of escapism from the contemporary world, set in the type of community that operated from a strong sense of morality that no longer existed. He wanted to produce a series that would appeal to men, women and children of all ages.This formula proved to make for television gold, with the Anne of Green Gables spin off television series, Road to Avonlea airing in 1989 on CBC and in 1990 on The Disney Channel, running for seven seasons and ending with a heartwarming Christmas film, An Avonlea Christmas.
The world of Avonlea was multilayered and populated by a cast of colourful characters. It was important that the tone of the series aligned with the written voice of L.M.Montgomery, and Sullivan and his team of writers and story editors worked diligently to create characterization and narrative that could have easily jumped from the pages of one of Montgomery’s classics. The books Chronicles of Avonlea, The Story Girl and The Golden Road proved to be an inspiration not only for characters, but also for certain story lines throughout the series. Story lines, such as when Marilla and Rachel adopt two orphans-Davey and Dora Keith- were also taken from some of the Anne of Green Gables books.
Avonlea introduced many young Canadian actors, including Sarah Polley and Zachary Bennett, to the world and it also assembled a highly talented cast, including the likes of Jackie Boroughs, Mag Ruffman, Cedric Smith, Marilyn Lightstone,and R.H. Thomson. And it attracted a plethora of famous guest stars, who took on roles of characters that varied from mysterious, as in Christopher Reeves guest appearance in the episode “A Dark and Stormy Night”, to controversial ,yet sympathetic, as in Stockard Channing’s turn as the Minster’s Wife in two episodes at the end of season 5.
As a spin off of the Anne of Green Gables mini series, it was only natural that some of the characters from those films would cross over into the Road to Avonlea series, with Colleen Dewhurst reprising her iconic role as Mariila Cuthbert, Patricia Hamilton returning as the opinionated, but kind hearted Rachel Lynde and Jonathan Crombie appearing as Gilbert Blythe, who comes back to Avonlea on the occasion of Marilla’s death.
Road to Avonlea may have started as a spin off of Anne of Green Gables, but it grew to be an iconic and enduring entity of its own.The cinematic scale of the production, multi-generational appeal of the characters, as well as the moving story lines drew audiences in week after week, but the sensibility of the show is what has made it a classic. The world of Avonlea is unlike anything else seen on television, although comparisons will be made; it is truly magical, encompassing a sense of coming home to community and family.
To watch all seven seasons of Road to Avonlea, visit GazeboTV.