Green Gables is the place to be in Netflix’s adaption of the classic novel, Anne of Green Gables. ANNE WITH AN E is everything a modern fan of literature could want in an adapted show. Its cinematography is lush and colorful, its characters vibrant, and the plot is surprisingly thrilling for a story about a young girl living in a small secluded community in the late nineteenth century. I laughed, I cried, and I didn’t expect either from a show about a little girl.
The clunky, expositional dialogue is awkward and a bit hard to swallow in the beginning – particularly for those who might not be familiar with Anne’s character in either the book or the previous 1980s adaptation. However, Anne as a character is so charming and full of feeling that her long diatribes and wistful musings don’t feel out of place or cheesy at all. (I will never, however, get over how often this show uses the word ‘fortification,’ as if anyone at any period of time would use that mouthful of a word in casual conversation.)
In a surprising, yet refreshing take on a period piece, the show doesn’t sugarcoat the action or problems Anne deals with. In this version, she is very much coping with the trauma of her previous post at an abusive home. She deals with this quietly to herself – something that rings true to the buried emotional interactions that seem so telling of previous generations. But the things she’s seen and experienced come out in bits, like pieces of a puzzle that a true foster or adoptive parent like the Cuthberts have to uncover and piece back together like archaeologists.
The show is certainly not meant for a family audience – it’s appeal is very clearly to the now grown audience that remembers the Anne of the ‘80s. This seems to ring most clear and true in moments like that of Matthew Cuthbert breaking a carriage window with his head when he gets caught up between two passing buggies in the street, and again when Anne is departing the train, only to almost be scooped up by a perverted man attempting to lure children away from the station. And even more so in the third episode, when Anne speaks of the “mouse” in men’s pockets that women “pet” when having “intimate relations.”
But, though these instances sound crazy when I describe them out of context, they flow so smoothly into the Anne’s story that they only seem to add to the depth of her life and times. Nothing the show has demonstrated thus far in the series feels out of bounds or inexcusably out-of-touch. Nothing seems deaf to tone, though the show has taken a certain leap with this adaptation interpretation.
The show starts us off with Anne’s beginning: we learn that she is on her way to meet the Cuthbert’s, who are expecting a boy – which she most certainly is not. This is, in essence, is the dilemma of the first episode (which also happens to be twice as long as all the other episodes). Upon realizing that the child that has come to live with them is not, in fact, a boy, the Cuthberts – an graying pair of siblings, Miss Cuthbert is set on sending Anne back and getting a boy, as they intended. Mr. Cuthbert has been charmed by Anne’s wit and eagerness, though, and is not so set on giving her up. Sure enough, Anne charms her way into convincing Miss Cuthbert to give her a chance, and the brother and sister duo agree on giving Anne a trial period and hiring a young boy from a nearby farm to help with the work that their non-existent orphan boy would have been helping with. All seems to be going pretty well until Miss Cuthbert cannot find her heirloom brooch. Certain that Anne must have stolen it, Miss Cuthbert tells Anne to confess or else she’ll send her right back to the orphanage. Of course, Anne has not stolen the brooch, but Miss Cuthbert is convinced that she has, and the situation becomes a dead-end for Anne. She gets sent off to the train station to return to the orphanage.
However, Miss Cuthbert later finds her brooch and realizes the terrible assumption and mistake she’s made about Anne. She sends Mr. Cuthbert off to try and fetch Anne before she gets on the train, but he’s too late – the train has already gone. This is where episode two picks up, and we follow as Mr. Cuthbert makes the journey to the orphanage chasing after Anne while Miss Cuthbert wallows away at home in agony over what she’s done. When Mr. Cuthbert is finally able to locate Anne and bring her back to Green Gables, Miss Cuthbert still has some changing she needs to do herself, as she closes herself off to Anne emotionally until an outburst at a community-wide picnic forces Miss Cuthbert to confide in Anne as Anne would like to confide in Miss Cuthbert. The episode has a sweet ending as Anne is ‘officially’ adopted by the Cuthberts, who have her sign her name into their family bible and subsequently take on the Cuthbert name.
Episode three sees Anne starting her new life as a true child through and through. Finally, she gets to attend school. But things are harder than she expects, as she struggles to understand the children and the social rules around her. She’s never really been to school – though she loves to read and she’s extremely good at it – and learning to fit in with the kids around her is proving to be more of a challenge than she can bare. When she thinks she has a way in discussing all she knows about “intimate relations” from her previous post, she causes disgust amongst her classmates, and alarm around the community. The conversation eventually gets back to the Cuthberts, who are only beginning to realize the depths of tragedy to which Anne has been privy. Here we also meet Gilbert, the cute boy in school who takes a keen liking to Anne, beyond any logical reasoning.
With that, the first half of the season is set. The show is proving to be quite the TV page-turning equivalent to the book, and I’m excited to see where this adaptation takes us next.
Season 1, Episodes 1-3 (S01E01-03)
Anne With An E debuted May 10th on Netflix
Tasha is a freelance writer currently based in Los Angeles. Originally from Kansas, when she’s not writing about or watching TV, Tasha is searching for the best BBQ place in LA to fill the KC BBQ hole in her stomach.
Keep up with all of Tasha’s reviews here.
Tasha Cerny | Contributor