Whew! Do I have a lot to say about this Netflix original series. (Just ask my husband, who really couldn’t care less, bless his heart.) A lot of people have a lot to say about this series. Because, let’s face it, Anne of Green Gables has been a VERY popular book(s) for something like a century, and there are many, many fans who were waiting with bated breath for the new series’ release.
“They” just totally picked the wrong writer (and maybe directors) to do it. Totally.
The bottom line is this: the vision for this series is all wrong, and the writer just doesn’t get Anne. And I feel like I can say this with confidence. I have been reading Anne almost every year since I was fifteen. I have read some of the history, as well as everything else that is available by Montgomery. I’m a writer. I am one of those people who will charter a plane to P.E.I one day to see the place for myself. And with all those many, many hours under my belt, with Anne, I am going to repeat it: the writer just doesn’t get Anne. (Please note that any of the stills that I have seen for this series, including the cover images, are very misleading. The actual footage is mostly dark, gray, and bleak.)
The whole truth is that there are things I like about this series, as an original story. The cinematography is gripping and the characters engaging.
From the first moments with the intro, I thought, Maybe this will be like an Alice in Wonderland-esque Anne. Which, actually, might have been interesting. What I didn’t suspect was hour after agonizing hour of bleak psychoanalysis. That first (long, slow) episode was rife with PTSD. I wanted to know where Avonlea was. Sure, Avonlea has always had its faults (as do all the characters), but there were always wonderful things about them, too. Yeah, Anne is stubborn and vain, flighty and clumsy, but she is not an angry depressive who runs away from her problems. I get that many of the issues—like feminism and death and an abusive childhood and rejection—were always in the text, but here we see it turned into a macabre pantomime, mocking Montgomery’s brilliant work in a hopeful look at the complexities of life.
The second episode was definitely the worst, and where the writer goes most afield from the original story. My mind kept yelling out, Why did you change the story? In my opinion, when you have a story that has endured and been so lauded and beloved, you don’t change it for an adaptation beyond what has to be done to change mediums. Marilla kicking Anne out of the house, Matthew jumping on a horse and riding it to exhaustion, Matthew bloodying his head and stumbling into an orphanage to be convinced to clean himself off… it was all so incongruent that it was laughable, if I wasn’t already in mourning for the story.
Anne as being cruel to the hired help? Anne lying about going to school? Even in the little things, the characters and place that we all love were blurred beyond recognition. We know, right? Anne would never do that. And moving violence, sex, and gore to the front was completely unnecessary, anyways. The shades were always there, but they were dealt with with so much deftness, compassion, and wisdom, before. (The writer also doesn’t seem to understand that fans love these books partly because they were written in a different time, in a different voice from what we get on NPR or at the movie theater. We LIKE to be whisked away to someplace different, with a gentler, more refined tone.)
Leave it to modern media to strip the story of its dignity.
Not that the series is all bad. I truly enjoyed seeing the home, the town, the clothing. The actors all basically did a good job, and everyone looks the way that they should. And it was interesting to think about the dark side of Anne and Avonlea… for about fifteen minutes. Because I am not depressed or hopeless or fatalistic. Or, apparently, thoroughly modern.
Honestly, I couldn’t have written a better or more accurate review than what was done at The New Yorker. Please follow the link HERE, if you are already an Anne fan and are considering watching the new series.
If you are a fan, the choice is hard: to watch or not to watch? It is a little bit disturbing, but also interesting. I would say you win, at some level, either way. Do what you choose with confidence. On the other hand, if you are not a big fan, but you like things like Game of Thrones, you might love this show. Just understand that you would not similarly like the beloved Montgomery books.
I watched Anne with an “E,” the 2017 Netflix original series of eight episodes. It was adapted from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, by Moira Walley-Beckett, and directed by eight different directors.
BOOKS in the series, all by L.M. Montgomery
- Anne of Green Gables, 1908 (This is the only book the series is based on)
- Anne of Avonlea, 1909
- Anne of the Island, 1915
- Anne of Windy Poplars, 1936
- Anne of Ingleside, 1939
- Anne’s House of Dreams, 1917
- Rainbow Valley, 1919
- Rilla of Ingleside, 1921
The movie starring Megan Follows and released in 1985, is considered a classic. It is beloved by many, including my college best friend and her three sisters. It is a much, much softer rendering of the first couple of books in the series, and I have to say I like it more now that I’ve seen the Netflix series. However, I would not recommend the whole trilogy, as it has the same basic problem as Anne with an “E”: it makes its own story beginning at the second movie, which is not very consistent with the Anne of the books, in many ways.