Comparing Three Anne of Green Gables: Who Played Matthew Best?

Matthew collageI think I may love Matthew best of all. 

I mean, it’s nearly a four-way tie between Anne, Gilbert, Marilla and Matthew, with Anne having an edge because she’s my tribal chief and all, but…

Upon further soul searching, I think Matthew Cuthbert, literary potato farmer, may beat his ginger girl by a whiskery gray hair.

As I wrote in my “real dad” post last week, for Father’s Day:

“One of the very finest adoptive dads from literature is one of my favorite characters, period. Matthew Cuthbert, of course, the painfully shy, stoic, humble potato farmer from Prince Edward Island who found himself surprised by grace, shocked by father-love, flabbergasted by Anne of Green Gables.”

In my memoir, which plaits my “orphan” story with that of my Korean girl’s and our mutual orphan friend, Annei, I write about Matthew and other real dads who changed my life and the life of my girl.

He just astounds me, every time I read the book or watch a good cinematic retelling–note I said “good”! When we meet him in the book, there is something about Matthew that is scared, bunkered, inward. It’s like his old sheep’s heart is buried deep down in the red dirt of PEI, like one of his delicious tubers. And believe me, PEI potatoes are an elevated variety of spud. My friend Kim and I ordered a meat entree every night at our inn in Charlottetown, just so we could luxuriate in those mashed taters!

But back to Matthew:

Closed-off, head down and heart hidden–that’s Mr. Cuthbert, pre-Anne. The shock he received upon hearing that the orphan he and Marilla sent for was a girl, and not a boy, was nothing compared to the aftershocks yet to come. From the start, Anne would not stop talking, and wonderfully, delightfully, and so gratifyingly, Matthew never stops listening.

His radical transformation, from sleepwalking through life to awakened by a child’s love, is one of the book’s most poignant and exhilarating journeys.

Radical but subtle? Awakening from a lifetime of emotional narcolepsy? Anyone playing Matthew onscreen has got to have chops and more chops to get those elements just right.

So which Matthew had the choppiest of acting chops? Which Matthew was perfectly fitted for the role?

In recent weeks, I’ve been running a series here on my blog: Comparing Three Anne of Green Gables: Who Played (Anne, Marilla, Gilbert, and now Matthew) best?

Please do post your comments, Matthew enthusiasts. This is my last blog in the series, and…

Every comment on my blog from now until my “Who Played it Best?” blog series is done will be entered in a contest to win a fetching Anne of Green Gables art piece or frameable quote from my favorite Etsy shop, Carrot Top Paper Shop! 

This week, I will be comparing Richard Farnsworth from the lustrous 1985 miniseries, Martin Sheen from the YTV/PBS three-part series, which aired first in the US last Thanksgiving, and R.H. Thompson from “Anne with an E.”

Giddyup, then. Who played Matthew best?

Matthew Cuthbert 1

Richard Farnsworth, Anne of Green Gables, 1985:

Pros: I have a very special place in my heart for Richard Farnsworth. I have been picturing his dear face as Matthew for 32 years! From the moment we meet Matthew we love him. We love his gentleness, his shy chuckle, and especially the way he listens endlessly to Anne, his attention never wavering. And he’s brave, because it takes a lot of guts to shove aside 60-some years of fear to make conversation with a scary female shopkeeper, in order to procure dreamy puffed sleeves for his girl.

When he says “you’re my girl..my girl that I’m proud of…” we can almost hear the buttons popping off his chest. We can’t help but cry then, or later, when the worst happens…I always know what’s coming and it always breaks me down to the ground when Matthew dies. But yet a love that strong will shine forever in Anne’s life. We know that, and so does she.

Cons: None. How could I possibly criticize this man, the soul of sweetness? My only observation is that he seems older than the Matthew of the book. That’s it.

Martin Sheen, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables  Matthew 4

Pros: He’s Martin Sheen. I really like Martin Sheen. Always have! But, as I wrote in my review of the 2016 series, “Martin Sheen is too handsome and talkative to be Matthew. His portrayal is well done because he’s a gifted actor. But Sheen’s Matthew is downright extroverted compared to dear, dear Richard Farnsworth’s Matthew.”

Cons: He’s Martin Sheen. One of my commenters complained that the waving, gregarious Matthew in this series was “the life of the party!” Which made me laugh, to think of Matthew that way. I just think Sheen was a serious miscast. He innately has this bristling, authoritative and even powerful presence, which clashes with Matthew’s deep introversion, vulnerability, and meekness.

R.H. Thompson, “Anne with an E”Matthew 3

I relaxed considerably when I found out Matthew would be played by the incomparable Jasper Dale, er, R.H. Thompson, a wonderfully subtle Canadian actor I knew through his work on “Road to Avonlea.” Thus contented that Matthew was in good hands, I was not disappointed.

In my first review of “Anne with an E,” I wrote:

“I am extremely particular when it comes to my Matthews and my Gilberts. Thompson passed my Matthew test, which is hard to do.

Stoic. Gentle. Almost wordless. And brimming with pent up fatherly love in his crusty old heart! Heroic! Oh, he’s perfect, just perfect.” 

Week by week, I grew to admire and love Thompson’s Matthew. My favorite moment?

“When Matthew found out that Anne had saved Minnie Mae’s life, his quiet pride was written loudly all over his face. He gently brushed a tendril of red hair from Anne’s sleeping face, and his love for her was piercingly real.”

Cons: None, except that I hated the storyline where Matthew contemplates suicide, feeling that he is worth more dead than alive to Anne and Marilla. But that’s not the actor’s fault.

My Best Portrayal of a Matthew in an Adaptation of an Anne of Green Gables goes to…

Martin Sheen!

Just kidding.

Actually, it’s a tie. Both Richard Farnsworth and R.H. Thompson bring their own shadings and nuances to the role of Matthew Cuthbert. Both are worthy to play this brave, winsome character. Both have crazy-good acting chops!

Anne 18

What do You think?

Who played Matthew best IYHO??

Comment below for your last chance to win!

 

Matthew Cuthbert 2

Comments

  1. Jodi says

    I just can’t seem to let any of the newer actors take the place of the 1985 version for me. Richard Farnsworth still is my absolute favorite. His portrayal seems the closest to what i imaging Matthew like when I read the books. However, I did also like RH Thompson and he was my favorite character in Anne with an E. I can’t get past him contemplating suicide though to let him take Richard Farnsworth place, even though that isn’t his fault. I also felt he wasn’t quite shy enough.

    • Lorilee says

      So interesting that people keep saying one actor or another is what they imagined. Have you reread the books lately? I love that Anne is the #1 book in Canada right now!

  2. Mori says

    Ahh, you cheated Lorilee :) I had a feeling this was going to be an even contest and that in the end one of them would win by a hair (like Geraldine did) but alas, you hoodwinked.

    My choice is R.H. Thompson.
    I shan’t go into too many comparisons like I usually do and instead I’ll just mention some of my favourite moments:

    Anne is going with Marilla to visit Mrs. Spencer to ask why she brought a girl with her and not a boy. Before they leave Matthew says “I didn’t say I’d hire a boy to get rid of you. It was in the hopes that you could stay.”

    After Anne meets Jerry for the first time she sees Matthew fixing the fence and she goes to him. She tells him about her apology to Mrs. Lynde and then she says “Matthew, are you sure you still want me to stay?” Matthew says nothing and instead he pinches her arm (to prove that it is real).

    In the train station, Anne is trying to sell poems for train fare when Matthew appears. She is distraught and untrusting when Matthew tries to convince her to go back to Green Gables. A stranger sees them arguing:

    Stranger – “Is this man bothering you?”
    Matthew – “No, no. Uh… We’re fine.”
    Anne – “This man is indeed bothering me.”
    Stranger – “That so?”
    Matthew – “We’re fine. She’s my daughter.”

    And the boxing scene, and the dress scene and the scene that Lorilee mentioned after Anne saved Minnie May. So many jewels.

  3. says

    This is a hard decision. I love Richard Farnsworth in the 1985 series. But I have to say, RH Thomson wins it for me – because I felt there was more character development for Matthew in this adaptation. I love Matthew’s character so much- it was a treat to see more of him and RH Thomson added so many layers to the character.
    The last episode was so rushed. Matthew went from being depressed, contemplating suicide, attempting to load the gun and then deciding not to do it, all in less than ten minutes. It was sloppy and rushed. I think anyone can suffer from depression and a broken spirit- even Matthew- but I felt it was way too rushed to be credible, and I didn’t buy it. But that wasn’t the actors fault.
    I hope we get a second season and more Matthew!!

    • Lorilee says

      Golden insights, Aimee! You are right that RH added so many fascinating layers. I wish more people would give him a shot!

  4. Jean says

    Like I’ve said before, no one can ever take the places of the original cast members of AOGG. The first Matthew is the best actor, hands down! I just loved his character of being quiet, shy and the way he spoke to Anne! I didn’t watch the PBS series, I do like Sheen as an actor but not sure how he would have done in AOGG! And the new Matthew, I must say, I like him as Matthew. Some of the things he has said or done, I couldn’t see the first Matthew doing but that’s okay because he is winning my heart. The story line is way off, but I’m still interested in continuing to watch this show! I’m really interested in watching those 2 thieves now. Haha.

  5. Elizabeth says

    Richard Farnsworth is my all time favoirte. He is so humble, compassionate, and loving. He has the absolute appearance of how I picture Matthew from the books.

  6. Deborah Williams says

    Whew….been wracking my little brain over this one since May…and I’m a devoted fan of RH Thompson…but my vote has to be for Richard Farnsworth. Just by a chin whisker or two, but his portrayal steps right out of the book for me. As a viewer, seldom does an actor match the picture in my imagination; Richard Farnsworth nailed it, imho.

  7. Becky Hunter says

    How can I choose anyone but our beloved Richard Farnsworth? He was born to play Matthew Cuthbert just as Megan Follows was born to play Anne Shirley!

    I actually haven’t seen the other productions, so I can’t truly make a fair comparison. Like another commenter said, however, Richard portrayed the Matthew that I’d imagined in my mind as I read the books. He’ll always be Matthew to me. :)

  8. Maria says

    Matthew Cuthbert from LMM’s heart/brain/pen is the best Matthew! But my favorite movie Matthew would of course be Richard Farnsworth. He played the quiet-shy man who fell in love with his adopted daughter, the best, imo. Love that man that gave Anne her first taste of kindness and love and stability. (I actually LOL’d in work when I read your Martin Sheen. Just kidding. Hysterical!)

  9. Julia Ann says

    It will always be Richard Farnsworth for me. Growing up he reminded me of my grandfather, so you really can’t compete with that. :) I am rereading Anne right now. It’s been too long.

  10. says

    No one compares to Richard Farnsworth as Matthew! My heart breaks whenever I see his death scene. And then when I read how he died in real life–heart break again. WONDERFUL actor!

  11. Ian Anthony says

    I have to throw my lot in with the majority on this one. Richard Farnsworth, by a East Island country mile~!

    He’s so good, it wasn’t until I re-read the book recently that I even realised he doesn’t PHYSICALLY match the description. (None of them do, except for the anime version from 1979 Japan, a classic in its own right!).
    But he does embody the spirit of that character far, far better than the rest. And I say that although I am an RHT fan from way back (Ticket To Heaven, anyone?). If you’ve watched any of Farnsworth’s other work (The Strait Story, exempla gratia) or seen interviews with him, then you can see, he is /was, just Matthew, already. He barely had to act.

    Nuff said

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