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Listens: Youth - Daughter

Anne with an E

Anne with an E (Netflix Original) was such a disappointment, it's almost painful to mention it. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery is the first coming-of-age book of the early 1900s that I ever read about a girl my own age. Before Anne Shirley, it was only ever Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Pip.

Anne with an E (Netflix Version)

This girl, with the brilliant imagination, love (mostly mooning) for books, penchant for big words and her undaunted optimism, was so very lovable in my twelve-year old eyes. When Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert of Green Gables debated on whether to adopt Anne Shirley or not, I was the one who read with my heart in my eyes. All of Anne's many scrapes felt like my own, and when she rebounded with her spirited self, it brought cheer to me as well. 

Out of the many televised versions of this book series, Kevin Sullivan's 1985-1987 version remains my (and everyone else's too, I daresay) favorite version. Megan Follows does a superb job as Anne (who made it very well-known that the last letter in her name was an "E"), and she is supported by the most perfect cast of secondary characters. Everyone is portrayed exactly as we pictured them to be: Matthew is shy but so affectionate when he finds this chatterbox; Marilla is curt and stern but her love for Anne's antics shines through anyways; Diana Barry is sweet and gullible and exactly the friend that Anne needs; Rachel Lynde is a gossipmonger but she's likable despite all that; and Gilbert Blythe is the smart, smirking boy who grows up into a very *ahem* responsible doctor. 

Anne of Green Gables (1985 Version)

The new Netflix show on Anne of Green Gables turns Anne's life into a much more sordid business. They give her many backstories, which in the previous versions were left understated but understood, and many of those painful backstories are grittier and harsher that they needed to be. Matthew is shown more as reclusive and fatigued, than as shy and affectionate. Rachel's love for gossip is shown as more evil than idle (at least in the beginning), and Gilbert's family history is sent topsy-turvy when he becomes an orphan early on. 

All of this could be forgiven, if at least, Anne had remained the Anne I loved. No, in this series, she is portrayed as much younger, less imaginative, more downcast with life's tribulations, even emotionally manipulative and pushy in her desperation to not be sent back. Amybeth McNulty is a great actress, chosen from among 1800 auditionees, but her characterization in the show really disappointed me. In the earlier versions, Anne wants to stay at Green Gables because she genuinely likes Green Gables; in this version, I felt her desire to stay on was not because she liked Green Gables but because she wanted to escape other grimmer realities. 

Perhaps this new version is more realistic for all its bleakness, but nobody loves Anne of Green Gables for its bleakness; we loved it for its brightness and hope instead, for making us believe that human beings are capable of great goodness sometimes. I don't think this amounts to Pollyannaism, this is the Canadian 1900s after all. But the new version would have us think that's impossible. 

Take the Episode 2 of the new version for example. They actually send Anne back, and then she goes harrying off to some other place, and then Matthew goes frenzied with worry, and chases after her everywhere, and even sells/ pawns his items to get money enough for that. Was this necessary? Was this even "realistic"? There are several more of such instances, and Vanity Fair has done a brilliant piece about it here

In short, I did not love this Anne. She did not make me want to be like her. She did not make me wish for Green Gables. I had to go back and rewatch the 1985 version all over again to reboot myself. 

Rating: 3/10. Completely Avoidable.


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