Where my kindred spirits at?
We are mere days from the Netflix premiere of ‘Anne With An E,’ but I had the pleasure of viewing the first two episodes earlier this spring when my Canadian TV signal was coming in. There’s a lot to be excited about, so I’ll just mention a few things now:
- In an epic Meeting Of The Canadian Cultural Icons, the opening titles of ‘Anne With An E’ are set to The Tragically Hip’s Ahead By A Century, giving the song a new meaning and perfectly encapsulating Anne.
- The aesthetics are phenomenal. The ‘Anne With An E’ production strove for authenticity in its sets and costumes, but certainly also to meet a modern appeal. To wit: the puffed sleeve dress won’t look as ’80s as the one in the (dearly, deservedly beloved) Megan Follows version. Yes, that ’80s dress was historically accurate, but the choice was one that complimented a 1980s aesthetic; the choices in this production, similarly, are historically accurate but complement a 2017 aesthetic. That is to say that many of the rooms in Green Gables are beautifully bare and folksy, like a Kinfolk spread. Both the CBC and Netflix premieres included flower crowns and a flower wall. The town shots of Avonlea are a little more ‘gritty’ and a little less Little House on the Prairie. The colors are at once washed out and sepia-tinged. It’s just PRETTY, in a way any production set in Prince Edward Island should be. You can see what Anne’s swooning over.
- ‘Anne With An E’ does depart from the books, for better or worse. I hate to bemoan too much imagination in a discussion of Anne of Green Gables, of all things… plus the (dearly, deservedly beloved) Megan Follows version strayed from the books in its own ways. With this adaptation helmed by Breaking Bad writer Moira Walley-Beckett, safe to say things are considerably darker. There are two arguments to be made here. The first is that Lucy Maud Montgomery knew darkness as a child, as her mother died when she was very young and her father effectively abandoned her, but chose a light and optimistic outlook in the Anne novels. The second is that the darkness is implicit in the Anne series anyway. We know Anne was overworked and abused in her earlier placements, and we knew of her loneliness in the orphanage. Her use of imagination as an escape permeates Anne of Green Gables, especially. She does face rejection and fear abandonment; she cannot remember being loved.
- However, some plot devices that were used to increase the dramatic tension in ‘Anne With An E’ felt unnecessary. The classic Anne debacles – the hair dye, the ridgepole, the Lady of Shalott business, good Lord, the cordial – are enough.
- I think Anne Shirley was always a feminist, but ‘Anne With An E’ couches that in more modern terminology. For instance, Anne tells Marilla that girls can do anything boys can. It struck me as anachronistic, but then I remembered my niece who I’ll be watching this with and realized that it’s not for me. I’ll take some improbable dialogue if it’s to a good end, especially in a children’s series. I’d compare it to the 1994 adaptation of Little Women that way.
- Finally, if there’s one reason to give this adaptation of Anne a chance, it’s Anne herself. Amybeth McNulty is the closest to the Anne of my imagination of any actress so far. Anne is aged up to 13 in this series, and Amybeth really does look like a 13-year-old who sees herself as scrawny; it was hard to suspend disbelief when the wonderful Megan Follows looked 17 in the first movie. Amybeth has just the right intelligence and spirit behind her eyes to make a convincing Anne, effectively conveying Anne’s disappointment, trauma and high-flying spirit. If I was 15 I’d totally want to be bosom friends with her.
The take-away: ‘Anne With An E’ – or any Anne adaptation – won’t meet muster for some fans of the 1985 CBC series Anne of Green Gables, but there’s a lot to love if you judge it on its own merits. I’ve loved Anne since I first read Anne of Green Gables in second grade, and I enjoyed the episodes I saw of ‘Anne With An E’ enough that I’m anxious to see the rest of the series. You could say that some liberties were taken with the stories, but you could also say that there was plenty of scope for the imagination in the original texts.
Other Anne Reading
My analysis of Marilla Cuthbert – whom I love, of course – as a creepo who kind of did try to buy a child to do chores. And if you have enough cash-money to buy a human child, you can buy her the ugly sleeves she wants, right?
Is Gilbert Blythe a swoon-worthy match for Anne or a total jerk who should leave her alone? Both? Neither? Or is the problem with Anne herself? Join me on the journey to unravel basically every weird romantic situation I’ve ever been in.
Several years ago there were rumors of a modern-day Anne of Green Gables adaptation. I tried to parse out what, exactly, that would look like. Mr. Phillips and Prissy Andrews? Yeah, that’s a Dateline special waiting to happen.
Because I’ve never skipped an Anne of Green Gables adaptation, I wrote about the PBS version that aired in November of 2016. Takeaway: it was fine, I guess.