What would you make of the news that one of your beloved girly childhood books is headed for a gritty makeover helmed by the producers of Breaking Bad? A year ago, when I heard that Netflix is backing up a more realistic and feminist portrayal of Lucy Montgomery’s series, I was up for the challenge. However, one year later, after watching the finished product, I have mixed feelings about the new ‘contemporary’ twist on the series and their portrayal of Canadian society.
One thing you should probably know first is that like many books, Anne of Green Gables is open to interpretations. Its central character- the whimsical red-haired orphan Anne won audiences worldwide with her powerful imagination, the strong connection she feels to nature, as well as her endearing struggles to find her own place in the world. This happened long before Pippi Longstocking made red hair and freckles cool. Very much like Lisbeth Salander, ‘the grown-up Pippi’, our new Anne is a victim of domestic abuse and her flights of fancy are often followed by anxiety triggers.
The new series takes other liberties too but also makes sure to stay faithful to the original source, where the Canadian landscape is almost its own character. It invests a lot of visual efforts to recreate the atmosphere of P.E.I. Each episode opens with a beautifully edited sequence, which depicts different places from Green Gables, as seen through Anne’s imaginative eyes. Then it goes back and inwards, diving into Anne’s nature. Falling in love with Prince Edward’s Island is effortless indeed, thanks to the stunning cinematography and the predominant use of natural lighting.
Sadly, when it comes to depicting the main storyline of the novel- Anne winning over the sympathies of her new family, friends and neighbors, the show takes a turn for worse. Traditionally, Anne of Green Gables celebrates the values of the Canadian society- the shared common immigrant past, the close connection with nature and the common spirit of egalitarianism. Anne The Series/Anne with an E pits Anne against a prejudiced and cruel society- both in and outside Green Gables.
The show depicts all the stories we have come to love Anne for and invents new ones, carried out in a rather disturbing manner, as most of her misfortunes here come from her traumatic past. When Anne lies about losing a precious family jewel, she is sent away from her foster family ( in a dramatic change of one of the book’s major storylines). A pedophile tries to pick her up from the station next. When the mistake is cleared and Anne returns to Green Gables, she is seen as scum. At school she is ousted by her peers.
It’s frustrating to watch this play on screen when Moira Walley-Becket‘s team has assembled such a brilliant cast for this adaptation. The lead, Amybeth McNulty, brings a rich nuanced performance as Anne Shirley. What is more, Anne The Series/Anne with an E shines when it comes to exploring Anne in a more feminist-oriented approach. Anne giving an impassioned speech to her foster father about her value as an individual and a woman makes full sense in the context of Canada’s history. The year women were recognized as ‘persons with rights’ was 1929 and Quebec was the last province to give them the right to vote in the late 1940.
The many lives of Lucy Montgomery’s series- be it as a manga (Akage no Anne), as a TV or YouTube series or as a Netflix show, shows how much of an impact Anne’s story has had for generations of girls and boys worldwide. For all its flaws, the new production has a lot of strengths and I hope that they get a chance to further develop and build on it. If you are a fan of Anne yourself and you want to find out how you can help its cause, follow the link- https://exploring-anne.tumblr.com/post/161061757845/a-second-season-of-anne-with-an-e
Disclaimer: All rights belong to their respective companies and owners. All media is used for educational purposes only. This language isn’t even my native language.
To Kana, Yuka, Shu and Airi. With love.