As it turns out there are some very brave TV producers out there. I come to this conclusion knowing that the very, VERY committed Anne of Green Gables fan see Megan Fellows and the 1980s Anne series as the absolute pinnacle of Anne greatness, a feat never to be bettered…. and yet, recently, some tried. Netflix released the first season of its new take on the L. M. Montgomery classic, Anne with an ‘e’. As one of those committed fans of both the original novels and the 1980s series (which, it turns out, is not the first screen adaptation) I was apprehensive, to say the least knowing, that my favourite story was being retold.
I put those fears aside and dived into episode one last Friday night. My initial thought was, “No, it’s all wrong. That’s not Anne, not Matthew, not Marilla and definitely not Gilbert.” But I continued watching…. and I’m so glad I did. If you’re a purest you’ll probably hate this, however if you’re willing to accept that this is a re-imagining of the story, with creative license taken with some of the back stories and a few other modifications as well as a heavy dose of reality, then you might just fall in love with this Anne as you did with Megan Fellows.
The most obvious difference between the story as we knew it and this one is the darkness, the new version does not shy away from the harshness of life as an orphan. The emotions Anne feels about the rejection she experiences from Marilla, in particular, on discovering the boy they expected turned out to be a girl and again when she is accused of being a thief and threatened with return to ‘that Blewitt woman’ are heavy hitting. The church picnic is no friendly matter either and being accepted at school proves an almighty challenge. I always felt that Anne’s orphan-hood was glorified or glossed over in a rather unrealistic way (not that I minded, the story being just so charming as it was), this series rectifies that. However, this has been a major sticking point for some fans who disliked the bleakness and darkness of the new series.
The casting in this latest version is wonderful. Amybeth McNulty plays Anne and she is just as L. M. Montgomery described – red of hair, skinny of limb, and homely, as Rachel put it). She’s also a spectacularly good actor as such a young age, adapting to the darker plot elements but also bringing Anne’s enthusiasm for life, flighty attitude to domestic tasks and the never-ceasing talk. Marilla (played by Geraldine James) and Matthew (played by R. H. Thomson) are also extremely good in their parts and showing a flawed humanity (Marilla especially) that was, at times, omitted in previous adaptations. Writer, Moira Walley-Beckett of Breaking Bad fame, fleshes out the back story of these two characters and I felt that this really added depth and understanding to their characters.
Finally, even if you don’t appreciate the changes made in this series, you may appreciate the cinematography, which is stunningly beautiful. The sets are greatly pared back, Matthew and Marilla’s house being sparsely furnished, and the outdoor scenes are shot in grand, sweeping motions that truly encapsulates the sometimes pensive, sometimes whimsical elements of the both the story and the landscape – this is especially true of the winter scenes.
So having watched episode one I immediately started on the second and then the third, finishing all 7 by the end of the weekend. I really did find myself loving Avonlea and all her crazy characters in a whole new way and I am so glad that this is being introduced to a new, younger audience. There’s some classic Anne lines in here as well. Had anyone else watched it? What are your feelings? Or are you decidedly in the camp of “not-going-there”?