I 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?
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
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”
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…
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!
What do You think?
Who played Matthew best IYHO??
Comment below for your last chance to win!