Anne With an E will be available on Netflix starting May 12th.
Today we are traveling to Prince Edward Island.
The first thing that has to be addressed when speaking about a filmed version of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is to acknowledge that Kevin Sullivan’s 1985 canadian television version; starring Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst, Richard Farnsworth, and Jonathan Crombie, is near perfect. From the scenery, to the acting, to script. It was what propelled my love of Anne, before I read the books. And even though the sequel, Anne of Green Gables the Sequel (sometimes referred to as Anne of Avonlea) goes wildly off the rails and fully makes up it’s own story, pulling only fragments from Montgomery’s work, it’s still heavily in the spirit of Anne. I wont mention the third installment, which isn’t awful but features a storyline so off key with the Anne books that I really couldn’t get behind it very hard despite the sort of romantic storyline that would normally pique my interest.
Anne (or alternatively Anne with an E, which is a cute but unnecessary change in name by Netflix) is a good show. It tells a complex story about an orphan girl who gets a new chance at a happy life when she is accidentally sent to the home of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert instead of an orphan boy who can help on their farm. She is imaginative and clever. She is a dreamer. In many ways she is the same old Anne Shirley we’re used to from L.M. Montgomery’s beloved novels. However, it is there that the similarities end. This show uses the book as a starting off place and then imagines a realistic sort of life for Anne and the Cuthberts.
The first episode, at two hours, tells the story of Anne Shirley arriving on Prince Edward Island full of dreams of happy and stable home only to discover almost immediately that she has been sent by mistake and will have to go back to the orphanage. The Anne books present this same scenario, of course, but feel less tragic, less terrifying. Anne’s theatrics overshadow her heartbreak and though the audience realizes it’s there, it is easy to overlook as we, as readers, know that everything will turn out all right. In Anne there is no such feeling. Anne’s heartbreak is overt and devastating.
The second episode, or third hour, is dedicated to the Anne truly being sent back, through circumstances, while Matthew Cuthbert races to find her. It’s a frantic episode filled with Matthew’s travails, physical pains, and mental anguish. Marilla, too, though at home, paces the floors. It’s clear by this point that they care deeply for their young ward, though Anne senses from them indifference. She does not return to the orphanage, but instead tries to make it on her own in the streets, betrayed and blamed for crimes of which she is innocent.
This series also deals with such issues as gossip, popularity, and an orphan who’s never been educated on such things getting her first period. Though, she still gets Diana Berry drunk on currant wine, saves Minnie May from the croup, and gets her beautiful puffed sleeve dress from Matthew (blue here as in the Sullivan version, instead of the chocolate brown in the book). Many of her scraps and flubs are omitted, making way for much more serious slights such as speculating out loud about the relationship between the school master, Mr. Phillips, and Prissy Andrews, repeating some of the more salacious words she learned in the orphanage.
A subplot involving Gilbert Blythe’s father’s illness raises such questions such as duty, compassion, and eventually grief, but is most certainly new to this series. John Blythe is a minor character in the books, but is certainly alive and kicking at his son’s wedding. This plot also raises questions as to Gilbert’s future, which, again, was not in question in the books where Anne and Gilbert remained academic rivals for all their school days. Luckily, he does still call Anne carrots and she does break her slate over his head, but here she forgives him in a timely manner and their relationship is often strained, too young for romance, but with the expectation that it will come.
While watching Anne, a weekly venture I looked forward to, I wondered if this was really for children or for the adults that remember and love the series and wish to delve a little deeper. Anne of Green Gables is often lighthearted, but there is little that is lighthearted here. And many of the themes are so weighty that I have to caution parents before they turn this on for their kids; they will likely have questions. Be prepared to answer them.
So, this is not the Anne we remember. This is not the Anne we grew up with. This isn’t even the Anne that I would show children as their first introduction to Miss Shirley. This is a much more serious Anne. An Anne full of scars and trauma, no less interesting than Megan Follows and her dreams of sleeping in a blossoming tree which we know will never come to pass, but certainly different. This is a wonderful series, and an interesting take on a classic, but it isn’t likely to replace the 1985 version in any hearts.
I give Anne a B+.