Anne with an E
There is probably no one anywhere on this earth as enamored as I am with L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I have read the entire Anne series no less than two dozen times, following young Anne Shirley from her neglected and wistful childhood through years of scrapes and adventures. Anne goes from orphan to a much-loved figure in her adopted town of Avonlea, bright and studious, becoming a school teacher, and going on to get a degree from a university, finally becoming a wife and mother. I read the first book when I was 10 years old, probably the first book I ever truly fell in love with, and in the years since have frequently revisited the series, finding so much hope and delight in those well-worn pages.
The Kevin Sullivan adaptation from the 1980s has its flaws, but there could have been no better Anne than Megan Follows. Follows captures Anne’s spirit, her hopeful nature, her enduring dreams in the face of adversity. Anne Shirley, according to the books, loves to “fly on the wings of anticipation” and Follows captures this perfectly. In Anne, we see a wounded soul, but one who is so ready to see the good in the world, and bring her very best to it as well.
This is a popular topic right now because of the recently released Anne with an E Netflix series. Amybeth McNulty is a believable Anne in her appearance for sure, perhaps more so than Megan Follows was, with the red hair, freckles and pale skin. However, for viewers hoping to see a true recreation of L. M. Montgomery’s beloved books, this series will prove disappointing.
The casting is excellent. Geraldine James and R. H. Thompson are spot on as Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, and the filmography is superior to the 30-year old Kevin Sullivan version. But this version depicts a different Anne than what we see in the books. This is not a hopeful Anne, always seeing the best in the world around her. McNulty’s Anne is cynical, sometimes petulant, and often negative. It is an attitude one might expect from a child who had her sad history, but it misses the point of Montgomery’s Anne. What made Anne so special was her unlikely response to her difficult past, her deliberate choice to see the best in the world. Montgomery has Anne saying, “Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world.” That is the Anne we fell in love with in the books.
To a person unfamiliar with the books, Anne with an E is probably a realistic and lively story about country life in beautiful eastern Canada, and an orphan struggling against all odds to make her place in this world. It depicts the transformation of Marilla’s reserved and unaffectionate nature into a woman of compassion and love. It depicts Gilbert Blythe’s fascination with the young, red-headed orphan who is smarter than the other girls. It depicts Matthew Cuthbert’s inherent kindness and compassion. But it misses the mark on why Anne was so special. Perhaps watching a series of strife and continual conflict is more likely to be commercially successful than seeing a young girl choose to make the world a better place. And I think there have been some great moments in Anne With an E, but overall, I am disappointed to see my literary childhood hero warped slightly; still imaginative, still curious, but without that winning optimism that life is what we choose to make it.
“Dear old world…you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.” – Anne of Green Gables