Like many women and girls across the world, I consider Anne Shirley to be a kindred spirit. The Anne of Green Gables series is hands down one of my absolute favorites -- and I have a tough time naming favorite books! I have watched and own the most well-known film adaptation by Sullivan Entertainment, and I have re-read the books countless times. Last year, PBS put out a new Anne of Green Gables adaptation, which I have not seen yet; then this month, Netflix released an adaption of a Canadian Broadcasting Company adaptation called Anne with an E. Over the past few weeks, my dear friend Nicole and I simul-watched (she lives in North Carolina, so we couldn't actually watch together in person, so we just schedule a time to watch and text each other) the seven episode series of Anne with an E.
Prior to watching the new show, I'd read an interview with the creator, so I knew going in that the Anne with an E adaptation was going to skew a little more melancholy than previous adaptations. I knew that they were expanding on Anne's tragic childhood prior to Green Gables, so I was prepared for significant differences between the show and book. Which, to be honest, I would have expected anyway, given that there have already been television adaptations of the material, so it makes sense that they would want to make their own mark in a different way. And I'm not generally a true purist when it comes to book to movie/tv adaptations anyway. The thing that matters most to me in adaptations is how true is the visual version to the characters, relationships, and world. Does the adaptation stay true to the spirit of the book? That's more my concern.
So. Anne with an E. How did it stack up? I have definite mixed feelings. (I'll try to stay spoiler free, but read at your own risk. Also, I have lots of words to say about this, apparently so....it's long. Sorry not sorry)
1. Matthew. This was the most heartbreaking disappointment, because Matthew is one of the true gems of Anne of Green Gables. The actor did a great job portraying Matthew's quiet, shy sensitivity, and his love for Anne. They added a bit of extra back story for Matthew in this version, but I didn't mind that. It was sweet. But there were a couple of instances where they had Matthew doing things that were EXTREMELY out of character in my opinion, and out of character in a way that really bothered me.
2. Billy Andrews. There's this whole drama with Billy Andrews in the show that was completely absent from the books (because Billy doesn't really do anything at all in the books until the second one). Which...fine, whatever. But I didn't like the drama, and I didn't like the way they changed his character into a bully and a jerk. And kind of tagged on to that -- some of the kids and other towns people in general were just a lot meaner at the very beginning. I understand what the show creators were going for, but it wasn't my favorite and didn't sit well.
3. Heavy handedness. One of the negative critiques I read of this series was the heavy handed approach to feminism, and I have to say while it didn't bother me as much as it did that reviewer, I can definitely see her point. Anne of Green Gables -- the original book -- is remarkably feminist. Anne is smart and intelligent -- her number one rival in school is a boy, and not just any boy, one with a gigantic crush on her BECAUSE she's so smart. She's a successful teacher and principal. She goes to college when that wasn't the norm (her best friend Diana wasn't allowed to study past high school since it wouldn't help her get a husband, according to her mother). She's independent and a published author. When she gets married and has a family, you never get the sense that she's settling, or that she's just doing what's expected -- it's clear that it's her choice. Anne with an E just takes a much less subtle approach to those themes. Similarly, there is a much more heavy handed approach to establishing how hard it is for Anne to settle in and fit in in Avonlea. There are some storylines that just go on for too long with lots of extra (and in my opinion unnecessary) tension and drama. While a little bit may have added some richness and a fresh perspective to the story, I think they could have benefited from a little more subtlety.
4. The cliff hanger ending. I'm not opposed to a cliff hanger in general, but this particular one -- which involves a brand new storyline -- was a hard no for me.
Now the Good!
1. Anne. Fortunately, Anne was still Anne (heavy handed feminist comments aside). She was still resilient and creative and imaginative and optimistic despite all of the reasons she had to not be. She was still flighty and forgetful, yet level headed and extremely handy to have around in a crisis. She was still adorably vain about her looks, and still big-hearted, loving, and generous.
2. Marilla, Diana, Gilbert. Other than Matthew and Anne, these are the three most important characters and relationships to get right, in my opinion, and thankfully, they were fantastic. Marilla was spot on: stern, practical, and no-nonsense on the outside, but with a soft, gooey center and a dry sense of humor that she just needed to put into practice before Anne came along. Diana seemed completely true and authentic, just a normal girl with a big heart and a sweet spirit. And I loved the portrayal of the Anne-Diana dynamic: Diana being the string on Anne's balloon, grounding her when she needs it, but also liking her for who she is and always letting Anne be completely herself. Diana was quick to stand up for Anne and try to smooth things over with the other girls, and it was just a delight and really faithful to the spirit of their relationship in the books. And finally...Gilbert. Even though they changed his storyline quite a bit, I don't think they could have done better at capturing the heart and spirit of the boy who is simultaneously oh so dreamy and yet completely deserved that slate over the head. Every interaction between Anne and Gilbert was just right.
3. Jerry Buote. I'm not sure how many people would agree with me on this, but I actually enjoyed the way they significantly expanded Jerry's character. In the book, he's a name -- the hired hand who helps out on the farm and who never even gets a line of dialogue. In Anne with an E, he and Anne often interact like brother and sister, and I think it's kind of a fun addition.
4. A lot of little things....like the fateful Rasberry Cordial Tea, Ruby Gillis, the Story Club, the amazing opening credits, and Miss Josephine Barry. There were a lot of delightful moments in these seven episodes. Characters and small scenes or interactions that were just right, things that really captured some of the best things in the book. And even some scenes that weren't in the book, but could have been: like a scene where Marilla is worried and deals with it by staying up all night cleaning and baking.
Bottom line (finally, you say): There was enough I liked that if they make more I will keep watching. I'd recommend it, but with reservations, depending on your tolerance for changes to the source material. Ultimately though -- like I told Nicole -- if I'm hankering for the real thing, I can just pull out my books and dive into the familiar and wonderful world of Avonlea.