Did you know Kevin Sullivan produced a fourth Anne of Green Gables movie with his own original storyline? Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning, was released in 2008 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lucy Maud Montgomery's novel: "Anne of Green Gables." Even though this film wasn't in the original plan, CTV/Bell Media thought it would be a great way to honour L.M. Montgomery's legacy.
After the release of his first Anne of Green Gables miniseries in 1985, Kevin Sullivan thought he was finished with telling the story of Anne, (but thankfully for #AnneFans) he later changed his mind. The miniseries starred Megan Follows as Anne Shirley, Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe, Schulyer Grant as Diana Barry, Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla Cuthbert, and Richard Farnsworth as Matthew Cuthbert. It closely followed Montgomery's novel and garnered massive TV audiences. Fans yearned for a continuation of Anne Shirley's life as a teacher, and more of her romance with Gilbert Blythe. They were eventually rewarded!
In 1987, Sullivan released a second miniseries on Disney in the U.S. called Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (also known as Anne of Avonlea). The series was widely popular across Canada, and later around the world. Sullivan's storyline drew on characters from Montgomery's novels ("Anne of Avonlea," "Anne of the Island," "Anne of Windy Poplars") but he also created his own storyline and introduced original characters.
After the success of his two miniseries, Sullivan produced 91 episodes of a spinoff TV show called, Road To Avonlea, which featured familiar faces from Anne of Green Gables alongside a cast of brand new characters. This show took the audience on a journey through the fictional town of Avonlea. It brought the characters up to the eve of WWI in 1913, and paved the way for the release of a third miniseries.
Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story was released in 2000 and saw Anne and Gilbert finally get married. Sullivan used Montgomery's struggle of being a young, female writer in the early twentieth century, as a launching pad to take Anne into the publishing world of New York. Anne later ventures onto the battlefields of WWI where she searches for Gilbert, who is working as a doctor in Europe.
After all was said and done with the Anne of Green Gables Trilogy, Sullivan didn't see the story going any further. Anne and Gilbert finally found each other, Green Gables was given to Diana and Fred to raise their children, and it was a happy ending overall. But eight years later, Sullivan ended up releasing one last addition to the series. Now fans want to know why.
The latest TV film, called Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning (2008), stars a new cast: Barbara Hershey as older Anne, Hannah Endicott-Douglas as younger Anne, Rachel Blanchard as Louisa Thomas, and Shirley MacLaine as Amelia Thomas. The year 2008 marked the 100th anniversary of Montgomery's first "Anne of Green Gables" novel (1908), and Sullivan saw the opportunity to do something special. He always felt that Anne, as a child, had covered up her background in order to be accepted by the Cuthberts. He said he wanted to explore what would have happened if one of Anne's parents had actually been alive, and how the Cuthberts would have reacted to him trying to get Anne back.
Sullivan thought the concept of this film could be a reflection by an older Anne looking back on her childhood. She discovers long lost letters under the floorboards of an upstairs closet, hidden by Marilla over 40 years ago. The letters are from Anne's father, Walter Shirley, and are discovered by Diana's adult children when they are getting ready to sell Green Gables. Older Anne confesses that as a child, she made up stories about her life because her father had deserted her. In reality, Montgomery's own father had deserted her when her mother died, not long after after she was born. He left baby Lucy Maud in the care of her grandparents on Prince Edward Island.
Sullivan said he always believed that this incident was Montgomery's inspiration for creating Anne of Green Gables. He took that idea and imagined what would have happened if the same events that occurred when Montgomery was a child, had also happened to Anne. In actuality, Montgomery saw her father only one more time in her life. Her father moved out West and remarried. When she was a teenager, she visited him once, but then she and her father completely lost contact. He later died and she never saw him again.
This film becomes it’s own unique story that sheds light on many of the things that happened in Montgomery's life. Sullivan created backstories for concepts like where the idea of "kindred spirits" came from and how Anne acquired her old carpet bag. He also explored themes of belonging, abandonment, rejection, and acceptance in a wholesome, family-friendly way.
"I wanted to find Anne's roots based on L.M. Montgomery, so I made a fictionalized story based on how Montgomery envisioned her own life." - Kevin Sullivan
Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning is both a prequel and a sequel to the trilogy. Young Anne goes through many difficult struggles after her mother dies. Older Anne reflects on the troubles of her past and becomes inspired by her father's old letters to work on her play. Later, she decides to find her elderly father and tries to bridge the gap of their tragic, missing past.
"There's a purpose and a meaning to this story because it pulls on Montgomery's real life and how she grew up." - Kevin Sullivan