I first saw Anne of Green Gables on my local PBS station back in 1985. I fell in love with Anne and her talk of kindred spirits, nature and the feisty Megan Follows who portrayed Anne with such conviction that I became lost in the story. There I was a 14-year-old boy who stumbled on a show about self-discovery, a woman's place in the world and the true meaning of friendship, loyalty and love.
I read Lucy Maud Montgomery's books as a teenager and always hoped that one day I could share the books or TV series with my children.
About a year ago I gave Montgomery's book to my daughter, but she wasn't interested in it at the time. As luck would have it, she and I both saw the trailer recently for Netflix's Anne with an E and thought we'd give it a try.
I had see an online article last year that Netflix was bringing the series back, but I didn't hear much about it beyond that. To be honest, I wasn't too happy with the title. Anne with an E just didn't sit well with me and I thought that maybe the series would be lightly linked to Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, but I was wrong.
From the very start, my daughter (she's 11), son (14 years of age), wife and I can't get enough of the series. We love it. There's so much to like!
The cinematography is scrumptious to look at: Filming took place in Prince Edward Island and locations in Southern Ontario. On a big screen, Anne with an E is glorious to behold.
What I like most about the series is that it's true to the series, but then expands on it. There are new characters and whole backstories that are fleshed out to build on the characters we know and love from Montgomery's books.
Anne Shirley is still the wild child whose imagination and fast talking ways bewilder all those around her. She's precocious and yet lacks some of the most basic social skills. She's a misfit for feeling too much, embracing Nature and allowing her creative and romantic imagination to carry her away. As for Anne in this series, she's played by Amybeth McNulty and is well cast.
The camera work is often close to the actor's face and it's as though we're right there with Anne as she wonders off in her imagination to become Princess Cordelia. McNulty's use of her body, witty tongue and impressive acting chops help you get lost in her world.
Anne with an E has been called "edgy" and I will warn that this version is for children 10+ years of age. There is some backstory to Anne's time at the orphanage and living with another family that delves into the reason why she's retreated into her imagination and how it's helped her survive such a difficult upbringing.
In the books and in the 1985 series, Anne's love of books is often romanticized, but in Anne with an E we're able to better understand that her quirky ways and love of books was a coping mechanism that allowed her to shut out the world around her.
After a particularly harrowing time at her new school, Anne retreats into her own world and talks to an imaginary friend. McNulty's portrayal of her pain and sorrow is real, or as my daughter said, "Creepy." I worried about Anne in a way that wasn't quite the same in the books. This new display of the more complex reasons why Anne is who she is might be seen as blasphemous by Montgomery purists, but I gave the writers time and space to tell Anne's story in a different and more modern way.
And I wasn't disappointed. Yes, there are new scenes and characters that weren't in the books, but I embraced that as I found enjoyment in rediscovering Anne of Green Gables with my daughter and son. I didn't know what would happen next to every moment as we watched the series. Yes, the major plot points are the same, but there's a good bit of new story added as well.
I found the new parts refreshing and only increased my love of this new series.
Some added twists and even a backstory for Matthew and Marilla add layers to them that I hadn't really thought about before. Matthew's backstory is told in a way that I thought remained true to his character and allowed me to see him in a different light. But what I liked best, is that I learned new things about my favorites characters.
The first episode went by so fast that I couldn't wait for the next to start as it ends on such a cliffhanger. I thought I knew exactly where the story was going, but I was wrong. That surprised me and showed Anne in a way that her anger is justified and allowed McNulty to shine.
Is this series the same as what I remember from childhood? No, but that's a good thing in my personal opinion.
Anne is more realistic in this series and I like that. She's damaged by the abuse that she's suffered at the hands of the adults around her, but I thought the writers dealt with that topic in a way that was delicate and not too graphic. There's a scene where a man is spanking her that's traumatic but the director doesn't dwell on the scene for too long.
If you're unsure, I would recommend that you watch the first episode and keep an open mind. At the very least you'll see a very strong opening to the series and be prepared to be swept away by the opening sequence (when they come on, my family and I don't skip them--they're that beautiful to watch. I've since learned the fine artist Brad Kunkle was brought in to help with the opening title). How often do you Google to find out how a credit sequence was made?
The music, titles, acting, cinematography and writing are top-notch. I have to disagree with Amy Glynn in her article on Paste that "Anne with an E remains an object lesson in what not to do to a classic YA series." I understand her point-of-view, but respectfully disagree. At the end of it all, I look at my 11-year-old daughter and she's engrossed in the series as is my 14-year-old son.
Is the series perfect? No, but what is?
(Rottentomatoes.com gives Anne with an E an 84%. Not bad!)
After we watched an episode last night, my wife turned to me and said, "Watching Anne is the soothing I needed." I knew exactly what she meant.
Anne with an E transports you to another time, another place and for just a little while you can forget about all that's going on in the world. If our kids can learn about women wanting to be equals to men through a feisty redheaded twig of a girl, I'm fine with that.
If you see it, let me know what you think in the comments.