Generations have been captivated with L.M. Montgomery’s beloved heroine Anne Shirley. Her likability stems from her honesty, determination, and pluck. We are never at a loss for plucky, unconventional heroines, from little orphan Annie to Maria Von Trapp, but what truly sets Anne apart is her incandescent, unstoppable imagination. The genius of Montgomery’s novels was in the creation of not only a believable heroine, but also an entire world. Contemporary readers are drawn into the little town of Avonlea and to all of Anne’s friends and acquaintances. Anne with an E does an impeccable job of recreating this world from the very beginning. The original novels by L.M. Montgomery are timeless, but this modern adaptation is a welcome twist for today’s audiences.
For avid readers of the original Anne series, the set is flawless. Green Gables is exactly as you would have always imagined it, The Lake of Shining Waters is there in all its glory, even the little schoolhouse where Josie Pye first snubbed Anne is perfectly recreated. The difficulty in creating a modern TV series from an already beloved story lies in making it believable. Anne Shirley already has a fan base, so any recreations of her must be, at their core, still Anne. Anne With an E manages to do this, while simultaneously straying quite far from the original storyline. All the fundamental parts of Anne’s story are there; beautiful Avonlea, austere Marilla, taciturn Matthew, sweet and loyal Diana, gossipy Mrs. Rachel Lynde. The plot, however, is new story entirely.
The 1985 CBS screen adaptation by Kevin Sullivan did much the same thing, and that version has a large fan base of its own. Loyal fans of the CBS version may have a difficult time accepting this new version, but will find comfort in the fact that Anne herself truly remains unchanged. Moira Walley-Beckett is somehow able to recreate the world of Green Gables so that it’s recognizable to lovers of both the books and the CBS series, but she takes it a step further in creating a new storyline, with a bit of a darker side.
Anne With an E may feel a bit more morose than the Anne of Green Gables you remember from your childhood. Wallet-Beckett reads between the lines of L.M. Montgomery’s novels to draw out the bleak side of Anne’s childhood. A close reading of the books reveal a A series of flashbacks woven throughout the first few episodes allow us a first-hand glimpse of the abuse and trauma that Anne has experienced. The books do touch on her pre-Green Gables life briefly, but this new series dives in a little deeper and forces us to confront the reality of her life as an orphan. The flashbacks are triggered by events in the present, suggesting that Anne may be suffering from PTSD.
As heartbreaking and painful as these flashbacks are to watch, they do cause us to empathize more deeply with Anne, and to admire her tenacity and courage all the more. We weep with Anne in her sorrows, rejoice with her in her triumphs, and laugh with her in her joy. Her vivid imagination is not stifled in this new series. All the familiar elements are there: the Lake of Shining Waters, Anne’s imaginings about her parents, her dreams of the Princess Cordelia. This new glimpse into her backstory allows us to recognize these imaginings in part as a way of coping with her circumstances, and we applaud her indomitable spirit.
Anne herself is played brilliantly by Amybeth McNulty. She is quirky, lovable, and resilient. Her performance goes beyond simply portraying an imaginative, fun-loving preteen. McNulty doesn’t shy away from depicting Anne’s inner emotional turmoil, and the series is all the better for it. Other noteworthy performances include Geraldine James as the strict yet loving Marilla Cuthbert, and R.H. Thompson as the kind and gentle Matthew Cuthbert.
While this new adaptation may not be the Green Gables you have always known and loved, the essence of L.M. Montgomery’s world of Green Gables remains. Anne With an E will leave you yearning for the Avonlea you remember, yet on the edge of your seat to discover what will transpire in this new story.