Thanks to one of the most popular characters in literature, PBS has started a Thanksgiving tradition.
Last year on the holiday, the network aired a Canadian production of the classic Lucy Maud Montgomery story “Anne of Green Gables,” about a spirited orphan’s impact on the aging siblings who took her in. Now, principal cast members Martin Sheen, Sara Botsford and (in the title role) Ella Ballentine return in “Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars,” which PBS debuts Thursday, Nov. 23 (check local listings).
In the story executive-produced by Kate Macdonald Butler, Montgomery’s granddaughter, Anne Shirley is a little older this time – 13, to be exact – but she still has all sorts of adventures on scenic Prince Edward Island as she settles deeper into her new life with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (Sheen and Botsford). One of her most notable experiences is an eventual meeting of minds with school rival Gilbert Blythe (played by Drew Haytaoglu),
“I’ve met so many people who have already been fans of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ in the book series or other (screen) editions of it, and they all have really enjoyed this version,” Ballentine says. “Definitely, older viewers really like it, and they’ve been getting their kids to watch it. I’ve had so many people messaging me on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, saying that they sat down as a family and now, their kids are big fans of it. And I think that’s really great.
“Many things nowadays are very gory or graphic, and things in the world right now are very upsetting,” notes Ballentine, “but this is definitely a film to really lay back (with), and you don’t have to worry about anything and it’s very lighthearted and sweet. You don’t feel like there’s a weight on your shoulders.”
Emmy winner Sheen’s fondness for young co-star Ballentine is evident. “This young lady has had a very profound effect on all of us that had the pleasure of working with her,” he reflects, “And, of course, you’re not seeing the young lady we started with, a redhead and a few years younger and a ball of fire. She’s an extraordinary young woman and an amazing talent as well. And I know she gets embarrassed with all of us bragging about her, but what else can you do when you work with her?”
One more story – “Fire & Dew,” advancing Anne considerably in the areas of education and romance – remains to be shown in the series of “Anne of Green Gables” films made by much of the same cast and crew, including “The Good Stars” writer-director John Kent Harrison.
One benefit reaped by “The West Wing” veteran Sheen from his “Anne of Green Gables” work is the new identity he has with young viewers … many of whom, he good-naturedly chuckles, he had no identity with at all previously (except possibly for his role as Uncle Ben in the Andrew Garfield-starring “Spider-Man” movies).
“These kids didn’t have a clue who I was until ‘Anne of Green Gables,’ ” Sheen allows, citing the effect he saw at a WE Day event to advocate young people’s involvement in bettering their communities. “The first session I did after (the first) ‘Anne’ had played, I think I spoke in Minneapolis, and the kids knew who I was. I was introduced as Matthew from ‘Anne of Green Gables,’ so that was a tremendous leap.”