Anne with an E

Not your mother's Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables is my mother’s favorite movie. She watches the 1980’s version several times every year. I will not mention this new version to her, for Anne with an E opens a window to the trauma that fills Anne’s memories.

I encourage fans of the books and previous incarnations to give this version a chance.

While many of the situations that the 1980s version uses for great humor remain in this new take, they often have a more painful subtext. You will not laugh away your tough day watching the antics of this Anne. The 1980s version is closer to the book, while the writer for this Netflix version, Moira Walley-Beckett, brings in a greater amount of darkness. This should not surprise anyone, given her years of work on Breaking Bad.

Amybeth McNulty as the plucky, dreaming girl who ends up at Green Gables is a marvelous mixture of over-the-top imagination and determination, and who only occasionally reveals the deep trauma she experienced. This version offers more of the backstory: the abuse, abandonment, and neglect that Anne experienced before a mistaken communication landed her at the train station where Matthew Cuthbert picks her up.

The flashbacks offer a window into the servitude she was forced into as an orphan; watching Mr. Hammond die of a heart attack as he viciously beats her does not return the audience to laughter so quickly. This revealed darkness makes the story seem more contemporary and stark. The tension in the drama over whether Anne should stay at Green Gables or be sent somewhere else plays at a much higher note.

Does this improve on earlier versions? Probably not, but it does offer an equally compelling story. It makes us feel at a deeper level how affected Anne is by her traumatic past and how amazingly different her experience at Green Gables is. When she claims that girls can do anything that boys can do, as she urges the Cuthberts to let her stay, we understand her motivation to try anything to stay away from the orphanage. To go from having no value other than as a house servant to being part of a family is starkly evident in this adaptation. To be a young girl without a family is an unenviable position. Positive thinking and humor only go so far, and that is where this Anne grabbed me.

The landscapes are high contrast and lack the oversaturated greens, which reminds us we are not in a fairy tale and all may not end happily. The vistas are beautiful and have a cinematic quality that the earlier production never attempted.

Anne with an E may try too hard to be relevant as it pushes issues of feminism and environmentalism. This seemed most evident in the episode of the house fire, where everyone seems to be against Anne until she shows them how to save the house. Were there really no adults who had yet discovered how air and fire interact? The opposition to her is so over the top that it becomes unbelievable. Can’t writers find narrative ways to demonstrate an issue without making everyone appear either black or white while offering few models of empathetic behavior? Humans and their stories should offer more complexity. I appreciated this nuance as we see under the surface the trauma that Anne carries, but I wanted that complexity to be extended to other characters as well.

The other scene that seems to offer false notes is when Matthew looks for solutions to the potential loss of the farm. I won’t share what happens, but it seems out of character for the one developed in the series. Marilla and Matthew have backstories built into this adaptation, but they don’t assist with character development in the same way that Anne’s anger, fear, and daydreaming flow naturally from the revealed backstory.

The opening credit sequence is an amazing collage of multilayered faces and objects of nature moving as if part of a time-lapse and in perfect sync with a mournful tune, Ahead by a Century performed by The Tragically Hip. I actually want to see the images every time a new episode played.

I encourage fans of the books and previous incarnations to give this version a chance. I don’t consider this to be family fare, so parents may want to be cautious. Anne is growing up, and wails when experiencing her first period, “But, I’m not ready to be a woman.” This is a grownup version that exposes the deep trauma of Anne’s past, which makes the love in her current life so much richer.


All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.