Anne with an E {review}

Anne wearing a crown of flowers stands in goldne sunlight in the poster artwork for Netflix's Anne with an E.Note: No major spoilers in this review of Anne with an E. It discusses only the first two episodes of the seven part series.

Listening as Mom read chapters from Anne of Green Gables at bedtime is a cherished childhood memory. Old enough (8 or 9?) to read L. M. Montgomery’s book myself, I appreciated the portioned delivery. It made it last.

My sister and I loved watching Anne productions, Anne of Avonlea, the sequel to the wildly popular Anne of Green Gables starring Megan Follows as well as the later Avonlea series broadcast on the Disney channel. It may have been why my parents caved for the cable channel. I’m sure we begged. I liked hearing about the spunky orphan Anne Shirley and her adventures around beautiful Avonlea. I related to Anne’s love of school and her frustrations with being bullied for uncontrollable factors like appearance. She didn’t wear glasses and I’m not redheaded, but we both spoke up for ourselves. I related to the feeling of being an outsider at times, wanting to be accepted for my differences.

This month Netflix released a new adaptation, Anne with an E. Before watching it, I listened to some of the Anne of Green Gables audiobook to refresh my literary memory. Things landed differently when I read it with an adult perspective. As a kid, I didn’t grasp how Anne’s “scope for imagination” was a coping mechanism.

I grabbed a few oatmeal craisin cookies and took a seat on the couch with the terriers to screen Anne with an E. Fiddle notes score a flyover of the lush mudflats of Prince Edward Island’s coastline. A drumbeat sounds as a horseman gallops into view. The dramatic soaring music and expansive landscape reminds me of something out of Braveheart without all the hollering and bloodshed. Breathless, I watch the action. The horse splashes through the shallows. Sunlight slices through the trees. A train whistles in the distance. Who is this man on a mission? Why the rush? This is different from the soft opening of the book.

There’s an abrupt cut to a mellow theme. It’s as if you left your stressful life to explore a peculiar tree house, climbing into a cozy space. The credits play like you flopped on a leaf pile and opened an album scrapbooked with Anthropologie-approved drawings depicting imagery from Anne’s story. The alt-rock song, “You Were Ahead by a Century,” nods to Anne’s feminism.

Ah, finally I see serene vista of Green Gables. Its people, the middle-aged siblings Cuthbert, sit before me. The setting’s accurate in details of glass housewares and plain clothing and clean rooms. Chattering Marilla bustles around while Matthew shines then laces his boots. This matches my book-set expectations.

Next I see Anne’s image in a train window then the camera pulls back to show her smiling in awe at the countryside view. Anne values her reflections. A crying baby interrupts her. It triggers a flashback to a darker time both emotionally and visually. As she audibly shutters, her older female companion notices. Anne says to her, “I like imagining better than remembering. Why are the worst memories the most insistent?”

So true, Anne Shirley.

As Matthew retrieves Anne from the train station, her constant dialogue–just how I remembered her–is similar to the fast talkers in Gilmore Girls. This may be a series to excuse Stockton from. And yet, Amybeth McNulty’s version of Anne with earnest eyes and enthusiasm charms me more than annoys me. Meanwhile, Matthew’s (R. H. Thomson) silent head tilts and half grins make me grateful for the audio description I enabled. Cheers for accessibility.

I’m delighted to meet again characters who faded after grade school. Imaginative but unestablished Anne. The nosy, overbearing neighbor Rachel Lynde. The stark and practical, hair-pulled-in-a-severe-knot presented Marilla, who opts to adopt Anne. The character struggles allow room to develop nuanced story arcs. This show catches the details.

Life is not easy, more so one supposes for an orphan like Anne in the 1870s before child welfare laws. It makes me uneasy to imagine how a young lady living with a visual impairment would have fared. Contemporary audiences can expect grim realities from pop culture. Life isn’t fair and to delude yourself by retreating to fantasy won’t yield the growth of facing your demons and carrying on despite them. This take, from writer Moira Walley-Beckett of Breaking Bad, promises to offer the shadowy complexities of Anne’s and perhaps even the Cuthbert’s past to fully color their rich futures.

In books, readers may miss depressive hints. Do you remember reading the genesis of Anne’s imaginary friend, Katie Maurice? What does it say about a child who stares at a pane of her foster mother’s bookcase which survived (so far) the rages of her alcoholic foster father and she dreams her lonely reflection can be instead a comforting friend? Contemplate it or quickly turn the page, but L. M. Montgomery folded subtext into the original story a sentence or two at a time. If you dared to linger, her salty hints subtly enhanced the sugar cookie text.

On screen you can’t forget melancholy moments. The show’s writers created brief flashbacks lit in blue tones that animate the fear, sadness, and anger of Anne’s abuse. With more episodes to watch, these harsh scenes could warp her resilient spirit in the face of lost innocence, but then again Anne didn’t ask for what she endured. When unsavory truth bakes in the sun, we can harvest strength.

Ignoring tragedies in anyone’s life doesn’t fix them. Sugar-coating incidents provides a refuge, but like abstinence it’s typically unsustainable. Compared to the pleasant yet dated 1985 miniseries Anne of Green Gables, the edgier Anne with an E tweaks the narrative for modern sensibilities. Even though it was too obvious, I’m forgiving of the bleak added material which brings a complex Anne to viewers.

After two episodes, there’s so much to love already about this adaptation from gorgeous cinematography to believable acting to a fitting theme song and thoughtful design–down to that broken carpetbag–in each set. Just like Anne Shirley, Anne with an E is full of potential. It would be a shame to come so far and be disappointed.

Have you read Anne of Green Gables? Are you watching Anne with an E? Do you watch adaptations or read sequels to your stories? Puffed sleeves, yay or nay? Tell me about it.


21 Comments Add yours

  1. herheadache says:

    Reblogged this on Her Headache and commented:
    If you were a fan of Breaking Bad, give this show a shot. I am interested in all reviews and perspectives on my favourite Red headed heroine. And yes, the audio descriptions really do help.

    1. What are your favorite things about Anne, Kerry? Did you read the book in school or on your own?I’m eager to hear a Canadian opinion.

      1. herheadache says:

        I did read it, only the original, in eighth grade. I read the others years later. It is a story that makes me even more proud to be Canadian. I love Rilla, like her mother before her. I relate to Anne because she feels like an outsider. I’ve always felt that way. I hope to finally visit P.E.I. and stand where Anne/LM stood. I was there, but I was two and have no memories of it. Lovely review and you will love the remaining episodes. I feel something missing from my Sunday nights here in Canada, as the show was airing on those nights, and am eagerly awaiting season two. Now my Sunday nights are spent watching Handmaid’s Tale. Not exactly the same thing, though both Canadian authors.

      2. Thanks, Kerry, for sharing the memories. I did finish the seventh episode and really hope there’s a season two. Atwood’s Tale adaptation grabbed so much attention when it launched. Premise is so disturbing. We don’t have Hulu so i wont be watching it, but i’ll probably read the book. Ghoulish Octobertime seems about right.

  2. Casee says:

    I read the book as a child and found Anne funny. As a teen I was quite the cynical one and I found her annoying. I don’t think Anne with an E would interest me. No No No to puffy sleeves ! 😁

  3. Camie says:

    Puffy sleeves are annoying! 😜 I love Anne of Green Gables but have yet to see Anne with an E. But I enjoy watching the movie and screen adaptations of the books I’ve read, especially the classics.

    1. I’m not a fan of puffed sleeves either, haha.

  4. As a rule I avoid costume drama and nostalgia but have been furtively glancing at the advertisements for Anne with an E and now you have convinced me to watch it. In spite of my prejudices I find many 19th century novels are so brilliantly descriptive that they adapt well and it sounds as if this is one of them. L M Montgomery is a favourite writer so thanks for the excellent review. I’m with Casee on puffed sleeves but recently watched a very old series of Trollop’s the Pallissers complete with crinolines and fans and loved every minute of it! So much depends on the production.

    1. What do youlike about Montgomery’s writing, Bridget?

      1. Good question. I read the Anne books at the same time as Little Women, The Little White Horse, the Secret Garden and many others with feisty girls as heroines. I would have been about 9 or 10 ( inthe 1940s)and mostly would have borrowed the books from the library. I liked the Anne books for the unusual setting and strongly defined characters. Up until that age I had grown up on a farm to avoid the war so I identified with Anne’s freedom. Later, I read some bits of L M Montgomery’s journals and her autobiography.. but, I’m happy to say, that at the time I read the books it was purely for escapism.

  5. Nancy Cruz says:

    Anne of Green Gables is such a precious story for me. Still, as an adult, I relate to her. Netflix’s adaptation is too dark. How are the young girls going to look at Anne? How could this Anne ever be the role model of resilience? Took away the innocence of the character and made her look traumatized. Though this was true, Anne had so many more and stronger characteristics and while living in Avonlea, things changed much for her. The actress portraying Anne did a magnificent job!

    1. Thanks Nancy for your comment. I tend to favor the book over adaptations in general, but I realize there’s always room for other perspectives. The creators of Anne with an E are taking plenty of creative license. Mining the subtext is a different direction. And how can anyone out-whimsy the Megan Follows version anyway? I do like Amybeth McNulty’s Anne, she is a great young actress.

  6. MamaRupp says:

    I absolutely loved all of those books growing up. Now I’m regretting canceling my Netflix account.

    1. Eek! Well, if a free trial or something comes along, you could catch up then. I bet it will be available for quite awhile. I finished the seventh episode and there’s definitely room for a season two.

  7. Joy says:

    My daughters, ages 7 and 11, and I just started this series and love it so far. We have read the books and watched both the old and new movies. My girls were at first annoyed at the changes, especially when Anne is (spoiler alert) sent away. But we are now on episode 3, and are really into every aspect. I pause it quite a bit to discuss comparisons between today’s time period, as well as the places where the writers clearly modernized the characters and themes. This Anne definitely has a darker tone/past, but I actually think that is probably more consistent with what an orphan would have endured at that time. There are some inappropriate conversations that went over my girls’ heads thankfully, but I still think Anne makes a wonderful role model because of her resilience and sweet spirit. Yes, there are some creepy mental things going on, but her underlying goodness still shines through the darkness. I’m looking forward to finishing season 1 and re-reading the books. Excellent review! Oh, and I quite like puffed sleeves (at least on Anne!)

    1. With the changes, this series gives so many opportunities for important conversations between parents and children. I liked the shift in episode 3, too, Joy. Kindred spirits!

  8. Michelle says:

    This version has an agenda. Why not just stick to good storytelling instead of forcing numerous scenes that will satisfy the social justice crowd?

    1. The writers created this adaptation in their taste and viewpoint. No matter what direction adaptations go in, it doesn’t change the original source material. L. M. Montgomery’s book stands on it’s own and remainss open to any reader’s interpretation. It’s just the nature of art, and we consumers get to enjoy it or not. I’m sure this won’t be the last adaptation of the wildly popular Anne of Green Gables!

  9. What a beautiful production. I very much like the way the writers have combined Anne’s romantic/escapimagination with Marissa and Matthew’s use of imagination to understand what lies behind Anne’s personality. They have managed to maintain Anne’s innocence while showing the cruelty she has been exposed to. The realistic acting and the intelligent dialogue works well with the original story. and, yes, it’s bleak at times but it rings true. what amazing cinematography. Without your review, Susan, I wouldn’t have watched this so thank you.

    1. Oh wonderful, I’m glad you enjoyed it for all the reasons you carefully listed. It sure is an interesting adaptation.

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