Review: Anne with an E
I should first confess that I am not a dedicated Anne of Green Gables groupie. I’ve never seen any of the adaptations before Netflix’s Anne with an E, and I haven’t read all of the books. I did read the first book when I was in Sixth Grade, but, unfortunately, its brilliance and subtleties were lost on me at that age. I am, however, quite familiar with the story, have a loose understanding of how the plot plays out, and have listened to The History Chicks Podcast episode on L.M. Montgomery (so that makes me an expert!). Okay, so that lets you know where I, a fairly neutral party, stand. (Note, I am going to give an honest critique, but keep reading, because I have lots of good things to say, too!)
I love any historical drama, so when Anne with an E popped up, I tried it, and I have since watched all three seasons. I know enough about the storyline to know that even the first season strayed from the books, but that didn’t bother me because it felt true to the spirit of them. I didn’t mind that the writers read between the lines and gave new dimensions to the story as long as they stayed grounded in the historical period and character of the books’ inspiration. For example, dealing with the trauma of being an orphan was great, and dealing with the prejudice Anne encountered as an orphan was really moving.
However, as we continued into the second season, we strayed from tackling the injustices of the historical era to using Anne with an E as a vehicle for the writer’s take on social/political issues of today. This is not a commentary on the issues that the writers chose, since this blog is strictly neutral on political matters. My concern, in any historical piece, whether it be film or literature, is accuracy, and accuracy becomes difficult to achieve when you place modern beliefs and mores on any historical era. You are playing with fire if you use a period drama for modern political purposes, especially if you are using someone else’s work. A writer wishing to forward his or her own causes (not an unworthy goal) should simply craft his or her own story, and not use the fame of a beloved classic as a vehicle for that goal. The parts where the writers strayed the most were, not surprisingly, the weakest segments because the stories didn’t resonate with historical truth. I have always found this to be the case in any historical book or film which paints with a modern brush. I should add that this wasn’t a mistake on the part of authors unacquainted with the historical era – they made this choice deliberately, as evidenced in the line of the opening song which says, “You’re ahead by a century!” So I am absolutely not accusing the writers of carelessness, just of using tactics which harmed the integrity of the show. Not only were current events tackled, but this was done in a heavy-handed way, which is a personal dislike of mine. I believe subtlety always wins the day.
There were so many times when I almost turned the T.V. off and said, “Done!” because historical accuracy is a make-or-break subject for me, and I tend to overlook a thousand good qualities if accuracy is not present. But I never could quite do that, because when the show shined, it really shined. Again, not surprisingly, this happened when it stayed true to the era and story. The absolute strength of the show was in the scenes with Anne and her friends, as they discover the wonders of becoming adults. Those parts rang so true and brought back so many happy memories. I absolutely loved watching those rites of passage into womanhood. It was beautifully nostalgic.
Anne (Amybeth McNulty) was a phenomenal actress. In fact, everyone was phenomenal. Some real standouts, though, were Marilla (Geraldine James), Matthew (R.H. Thomson), and Diana (Dalila Bela), who has my vote for Melanie if there is ever a remake of Gone with the Wind. But I could honestly go on and on about the cast. I loved the portrayal of Gilbert by Lucas Jade Zumann. Corinne Koslo’s portrayal of the snarky Rachel Lynde went a long way towards keeping the show grounded in the era. And Kyla Matthews, who plays Ruby Gillis, is also one to watch. You felt safe in the actors’ hands.
Not to be overlooked, also, were the costumes, which were beautiful (I was especially impressed with the men’s shirts this season, oddly enough!), and the scenery, which makes you kind of feel you are on vacation. The filming and production level were top notch.
And my thoughts on Season 3? More of the same: the straying from the spirit of Anne of Green Gables and the realities of the time period was overwhelming at first. Also, Anne became increasingly, screechingly militant, and I almost fell out with her when she screamed at Matthew (The Sweetest Person Ever) simply because he didn’t agree with her, which is what she did to anyone who didn’t immediately jump on board with her 21st Century beliefs. But then I reached Episode 5, which returned to the heart of the show: Anne and her friends as they come of age, and I loved it. And finally, as I watched Episode 10 (the final episode), and it reached its climax at the end, my heart soared, and I haven’t seen such good television since Matthew’s proposal to Mary in Downton Abbey (cue Downton music). It was absolutely fantastic! On the whole, I’m sorry to say goodbye to Anne with an E!
P.S. I really liked that the writers were interested in the historical fact that a lot of Indians/Native Americans/First Nations (Canada) experienced the unspeakable grief of having their children taken from them and put in Western schools, without their consent, in an attempt by the governments, to put it bluntly, to commit cultural genocide. I do not think this was actually covered in the original books, and I would submit that the story would have been more powerful in a different show (as it seemed to be a tack-on here), but I won’t complain because I think this is a part of history of which not many people are aware.
Until next time, Kindred Spirits and Bosom Friends!