An orphan girl, sent to an elderly brother and sister by mistake, charms her new home and community with her fiery spirit and imagination.
Anne Shirley, a twelve-year-old orphan, is distracted by a Tennyson poem and returns late to the house of Mrs. Hammond, where Anne is supposed to pick up and deliver lunch to Mr. Hammond at the mill. As a result, Anne arrives at the mill late, where Mr. Hammond dies from stroke induced from when he became upset over not getting lunch. Without her husband to support the family, Mrs. Hammond sells the mill and divides her many children among relatives. Despite Anne's desperate pleas to remain with her, Mrs. Hammond returns Anne to the overcrowded Fairview Orphanage before she leaves to live with another relative. A lonely Anne finds solace in her imaginary friend, Katie. Six months later, Anne is delighted to learn that she has been chosen to reside with a family in Prince Edward Island.
On Prince Edward Island, Rachel Lynde notices her neighbour Matthew Cuthbert is dressed-up and going to town; she learns from Matthew's sister, Marilla, that Matthew is going to pick up a boy they are adopting from the Hopetown asylum to help out on the farm, despite Marilla's own reservations. At the train station, the especially shy Matthew is stunned when he sees the child he is picking up is actually a girl: Anne. Uncertain of what to do, he decides to bring her back to his home, Green Gables, and finds himself charmed by her enthusiasm and vivid descriptions of the local scenery. At Green Gables, Marilla is stunned to see that Matthew has brought home a girl as he explains he felt he couldn't leave Anne behind, in spite of the mistake. Anne becomes upset when she realizes the Cuthberts had wanted a boy, but Marilla allows her to stay the night with the intention of returning her to the asylum the next morning. Marilla changes her mind when she meets with Mrs. Spencer, who arranged Anne's adoption, and Mrs. Blewett, who would take in Anne to raise her twin children. While Matthew is pleased with Marilla's decision to keep Anne for the time being, Marilla tells him that she will be responsible for how Anne will be raised and that he is not to interfere. When Rachel comes to visit the Cuthberts and makes blunt comments about Anne's appearance, the girl is offended and insults Rachel. Though she initially refuses Marilla's demand that she apologize to Rachel, Matthew quietly persuades Anne to do so. Mollified by Anne's apology, Rachel suggests that Marilla send Anne to school.
When the Cuthberts decide to attend a church picnic, Marilla is unable to find her amethyst brooch and becomes angry when Anne, who had admired the brooch, claims she had lost it. Marilla intends to send Anne to Mrs. Blewett, until Matthew finds the brooch dangling from her shawl; Marilla learns that Anne had lied because she felt Marilla wouldn't believe the truth. They forgive each other and attend the picnic, where Anne meets Rev. Allan and Mrs. Allan, Mr. and Mrs. Barry, and makes her first real bosom friend, Diana Barry. Anne's first day at school in Avonlea begins without any incident, until Gilbert Blythe tries to get her attention by calling her "Carrots" in reference to her hair colour. A furious Anne breaks a slate over Gilbert's head and she is punished by the schoolmaster, Mr. Phillips, who makes her write lines (but Anne corrects his spelling of her first name on the board). Anne refuses to forgive Gilbert and is stubbornly determined not to acknowledge Gilbert's existence from that day on. The incident also drives Anne to buy some hair dye from a German peddler in attempts to dye her hair black; to Anne's dismay, her hair turns green and Marilla has to cut Anne's hair short. However, Marilla tells Anne that she's decided to keep Anne permanently. Anne begins to excel at school, developing a rivalry with Gilbert, and they tie for first place in the term finals. Soon afterward, Mr. Phillips announces that he is leaving.
One day, Anne invites Diana to Green Gables for tea, but unwittingly serves Diana black currant wine instead of raspberry cordial, causing Diana to become intoxicated. Though it had happened by accident, Mrs. Barry forbids Diana from associating with Anne again; the two girls are forced to stay apart, to their sadness. With Mr. Phillips gone, he is replaced by Muriel Stacey, a female schoolteacher who quickly becomes another kindred spirit to Anne. Miss Stacy, acknowledging how Anne has excelled in her studies, invites Anne to join a special class intending to take entrance exams to attend Queen's Academy in Charlottetown.
As winter comes to Avonlea, Marilla and Mrs. Lynde go to Ottawa to meet the Prime Minister, leaving Anne and Matthew at Green Gables. One evening, Diana arrives at Green Gables, desperate for help as her younger sister, Minnie May, is very sick with croup and the doctor is unavailable. Anne's experience with children with croup allows her to save Minnie May and Mrs. Barry accepts Anne as Diana's friend again, realizing that the cordial incident had truly been an accident. As thanks, she invites Anne to attend the winter ball and stay with the Barrys overnight. Despite Marilla's initial refusal, Matthew stubbornly insists that Anne should be allowed to go; Marilla reluctantly relents and Matthew buys Anne's first nice dress to wear, with puffed sleeves as Anne has always wished. The girls enjoy their time at the ball, but when they return to the Barrys' house, they are astonished to find Diana's great-aunt Josephine in the guest bedroom, who becomes angry with how rudely the girls woke her. The next morning, Anne apologizes on her and Diana's behalf. Josephine is impressed and amused with Anne and accepts the apology, along with the request that Anne stay with her when she is taking her entrance exams for Queen's Academy.
During the summer, Anne, Diana, Ruby Gillis and Jane Andrews attempt to re-enact the Lily Maid's farewell after reading Tennyson's poem, "The Lady of Shalott". As the Lily Maid, Anne is set adrift in Mr. Barry's dory, which begins to leak as it goes across the pond, forcing Anne to climb onto a bridgepole for safety. Gilbert coincidentally is rowing across the pond and saves her, rowing her to the shore. He reveals that they have tied for first place in the Queens entrance exams and asks again for Anne to forgive him. She does not give him a certain response, though she and Gilbert appear to develop a tentative friendship, which concerns Marilla. Out of respect for Marilla, Anne turns down Gilbert's offer to attend the White Sands concert with him, where Anne will recite the "The Highwayman."
Anne begins attending Queen's Academy, where she elects to complete the program to obtain a teacher's license in one year instead of two alongside Gilbert. She aims to win the Avery Scholarship that will allow her to attend Redmond College, becoming distracted briefly when she finds Gilbert has become friends with a girl also aiming for the same scholarship. When the scholarships are announced, Anne is overjoyed to discover she has won the Avery and Gilbert has won the gold medal, which would let them continue their studies.
After Anne returns to Green Gables, Matthew suddenly dies from a heart attack, which devastates both Anne and Marilla. When Anne learns that Marilla stands to lose Green Gables, she reveals that she is giving up her scholarship to teach at the school in Carmody. When Marilla expresses her opposition, Anne assures her that she will continue to study via correspondence. Soon afterward, Gilbert meets with Anne and gives her a letter, where he has persuaded the school trustees to allow Anne to take the Avonlea school while he accepts the teaching post at Carmody. Thanking him for the kind gesture, they agree to help each other with the studies, with Anne finally forgiving him and becoming friends.
Behind the scenes
- Paul Brown (Mr. Phillips) also played Patent Clerk in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996).
- Jackie Burroughs (Amelia Evans) starred in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996) and Happy Christmas, Miss King (1998) as one of the protagonists, Hetty King.
- Robert Collins (Mr. Barry) played the role as Blair Stanley in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996).
- Anna Ferguson (Punch Woman) also appeared as Mrs. Biggins and Gossipy Woman in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996).
- Dawn Greenhalgh (Ms. Cadbury) played Matron in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996). She is also the mother of Megan Follows, the actress who portrayed Anne Shirley in the Sullivan Entertainment live-action universe.
- Patricia Hamilton (Rachel Lynde) provided the voice of another incarnation of Rachel Lynde in Anne of Green Gables: The Animated Series (2000–2001) and Anne: Journey to Green Gables (2005).
- Jennifer Inch (Ruby Gillis) also appeared as Maid at the Stanley Estate and Ruth Stanley in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996).
- Charmion King (Josephine Barry) has also played Mrs. Allan in the 1952 TV series Anne of Green Gables.
- Sean McCann (Dr O'Reilly) portrayed Dr. Spencer in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (2016) and L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables: Fire & Dew (2017).
- Mag Ruffman (Alice Lawson) also starred as Olivia King Dale in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996) and Happy Christmas, Miss King (1998).
- Julianna Saxton (Pink Woman) played the role as Minerva Dale in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996)
- Sandra Scott (Mrs. Harrington) also portrayed Mrs. Sloane, Mrs. Latham and Woman Patient in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996).
- Cedric Smith (Reverend Allan) later starred as Alec King in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996) and Happy Christmas, Miss King (1998). He also provided the voice of Tupper in Anne: Journey to Green Gables (2005).
- Rex Southgate (Section Head) played Mr. Heinrich in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996) and Reverend Jones in Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning (2008).
- Molly Thom (Lace Woman) also appeared as Old Lady in Road to Avonlea (1990–1996).
Differences from the book
- The novel begins with Rachel Lynde seeing Matthew on his way to Bright River. The film begins with scenes not present in the book where Anne is a servant for the Hammond family and being sent back to the orphanage after Mr. Hammond dies. The Hammonds were only mentioned in the book.
- Anne discusses her history and parents' names with the orphanage director Mrs. Cadbury instead of Marilla. It is also said that she was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, rather than the fictitious Bolingbroke.
- Anne is 13 instead of 11 when she arrives at Green Gables.
- Many characters are given first names in the film, including Nora Hammond, Sarah Spencer, and Elizabeth Barry. Mr. Barry's name is changed from George to John, Moody Spurgeon MacPherson's middle name becomes his surname, and Miss Stacy's surname is spelled "Stacey".
- Instead of deciding to keep Anne after meeting Mrs. Blewett, Marilla puts it "on trial for a while". She makes up her mind after Anne smashes her slate over Gilbert Blythe's head.
- In the book, Anne meets Diana before the Sunday-school picnic, and Gilbert afterwards at school. In the movie she meets both at the picnic, which is shown in the film but only described by Anne in the novel.
- Anne dyes her hair green as a direct result of Gilbert calling her "Carrots". In the novel, it is an unrelated incident that occurs much later.
- Josie Pye is not interested in Gilbert in the novel, but she pursues him in the film.
- Mr. Phillips makes Anne sit with Gilbert when she trespasses on Mr. Sadler's field. In the book, this happens because she is late to school. Mr. Sadler only briefly appears in the last chapter of the novel.
- At the tea party gone wrong in the book, Anne recalls a mouse drowning in plum pudding sauce, which she confessed to after Mr. and Mrs. Chester Ross were invited over for dinner. In the film, this scene is shown, and Miss Stacey is the one who is invited to dinner.
- In the novel, Anne finds out from Rachel that Mrs. Barry has forbidden her from seeing Diana again. In the film, she follows the drunk Diana home and Mrs. Barry tells her directly.
- Miss Stacey becomes the new schoolteacher right after the currant wine incident. She appears much later in the book.
- The Barry family invites Anne to a Christmas Ball instead of a Debating Club concert, which is where she wears the puffed-sleeve dress and meets Aunt Josephine. In the novel, Anne got the dress for Miss Stacey's Christmas concert to raise money for a schoolhouse flag.
- In the book the Lawson's general store clerk is Lucilla Harris. In the film, it is Alice Lawson. Moreover, Alice is the one who helps Matthew get the puffed-sleeve dress instead of Rachel Lynde.
- The scene where Anne flavors a cake for Rev. and Mrs. Allan with Anodyne Liniment instead of vanilla does not occur in the movie.
- Anne takes the Queen's entrance exam when she and Diana visit Aunt Josephine in Charlottetown, whereas in the novel these happened at different times.
- In the novel, Diana tells Anne the exam results at Green Gables. In the film, Gilbert tells her after rescuing her from drowning, which in the book happened before the Queen's class was even organized.
- In the book, Matthew dies suddenly after a bank failure loses all their savings. In the film, he has a heart attack while working in the field and he has one last heartfelt conversation with Anne.
- When Marilla shows Anne to her room, Anne's hat brushes Marilla's face. As Marilla turns you can plainly see that she is having a hard time trying not to burst out laughing.
- When Mr. Phillips has Anne write lines on the board, in the first shot, the "s" in Shirley is written in cursive, and in the second shot, it is printed.
- In the scene when Diana is invited to tea and then Anne follows her home after Diana has become drunk, Anne's tights change colours from black to white several times.
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Behind the scenes