The books and the 1980s adaptation of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series of novels were staples of my childhood. Anne was one of the first weirdos I encountered in fiction and I thought of her as a kindred spirit. Despite the harsh realities of the time that Montgomery does not shy away from, the series has a joyful magic to it. A magic that is lost in the new adaptation, Anne with an ‘E’.
As soon as the atrocious generic soft pop song begins to play, you know you are going to be in for a rough ride. And it only got worse from there. I understand that they are developing a series they hope to run long-term (and the first novel covers quite a few years in a short span of time, which is not always helpful when wanting the same actors to play the parts in a continuing series), so adding content was bound to happen, but they don’t even try to stay in keeping with the tone of the source material. Classic scenes are butchered, altered to suit new character story arcs at the expense of what we know and love about those characters. Gilbert isn’t nearly as cheeky, Diana isn’t remotely silly, and Anne – dear Anne – is obnoxious rather than charming.
Anne is melodramatic – the tale is not… meant to be
The showrunners clearly felt there wasn’t enough action and drama in the source material. Their answer? Turn Anne of Green Gables into a soap opera! It really does feel like they have missed the point. While true to life tragedies do befall Anne and the town of Avonlea, the events that occur there are meant to be ordinary, providing a launching pad for Anne’s vivid imagination taking her outside of her life (as beautiful as it may now be). But in this version, Anne’s melodramatic dream life is positively dull compared to the melodrama unfolding around her in life.
On the whole, Anne with an ‘E’ feels rather mean-spirited. Throughout, there are flashbacks to Anne’s life before Green Gables, where she was bullied mercilessly by cruel children at the orphanage and beaten by a drunken, belligerent Mr. Hammond. Of course, her story is meant to be about a ‘poor orphan girl’ who has finally found a good place, but why do they feel they need to portray her previous life in such dramatic, Dickensian style? Having Anne know about sex (even if she does call a penis a ‘pet mouse’) in quite so graphic terms takes away from her wide-eyed innocence – and what does it actually add to the story?
The sheer number of overblown invented tensions in this so-called ‘adaptation’ meant that by the end, the series barely resembled L. M. Montgomery’s story. The process of Matthew and Marilla deciding to keep Anne has the melodrama turned up to 11. With the broach incident, instead of simply threatening to keep Anne home from the church picnic, Marilla actually sends Anne back to the orphanage. By the time she finds the broach, Anne is long gone, leaving Matthew to race across the countryside to collect her – he is injured, sleeps outside, and has a heart-warming reunion with Anne in a train station. It really is the stuff of soap opera. Other appallingly melodramatic additions include a failed suicide attempt, potential bankruptcy (before Matthew’s demise – which doesn’t happen in the first season of the show), Anne earning money by cleaning houses, a progressive mother’s group, a menstruation storyline, the addition of farm boy Jerry as a potential love interest rival to Gilbert, an OTT ‘adoption’ scene, con artists…
Even iconic scenes have been mangled so much as to be unrecognisable. Instead of the main meeting between Gilbert and Anne being Gilbert’s teasing in class, pulling her braids, and calling her ‘carrots’, the series has them meet on the road into school. Gilbert ‘saves’ Anne from a group of bullies – because of all the literary heroines in the world, Anne Shirley, of course, needs a knight in shining armour. When they do finally include the hair-pulling, slate-smashing scene, it is entirely underwhelming. Anne has been ignoring Gilbert at the request of Ruby Gillis (sort of – Ruby has ‘dibs’ on Gilbert). Having tried almost everything to get Anne’s attention, Gilbert finally resorts to pulling her hair. It isn’t cheeky teasing at all, and as such, Anne’s response feels completely over the top. Similarly, the scene where Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk becomes the tale of how Anne accidentally got the both of them drunk – and as such, completely misses the characterising piece of Diana being a tad greedy and lacking self-control. (In this version, Diana isn’t even silly – she is actually rather level-headed and sensible. Say what?!)
Contrary, unpleasant, and damn confounding
I really couldn’t understand the decision behind making everyone in the town of Avonlea a judgemental asshole. When Anne comes to the church picnic, everyone in attendance is depicted as rude and snobby, not only judging Anne for being an orphan and ‘ugly’ but saying so out loud for everyone (including Anne) to hear. How dare these people pass comment on Anne’s lack of upbringing when they’ve never heard of manners! Sure, the town takes a little time to get used to Anne but they are certainly not such assholes in the original material. The flip-flopping some of the town members do, particularly Mrs. Barry is also infuriating. Instead of just the one incident – the accidental drunkenness and subsequent saving of Minnie Mae – there are multiple ups and downs regarding Mrs. Barry’s opinion of Anne. Bloody hell woman, stop being so inconsistent, quick to judge, and lacking understanding. Geez.
Dearest Anne Shirley is not so dear in this adaptation. She is a constant bully to Jerry (Green Gable’s hired hand) for no good reason, she is condescending and unkind. Her admonishment of people like Rachel Lynd for saying unkind things rings hollow when she is so unpleasant to Jerry. Anne’s anger at Gilbert, originally somewhat justified by his teasing in the books, is entirely unfounded in the series. From the get-go, he is nothing but lovely to her, but she insists he’s a bully. Are we supposed to accept her opinion given we know the Gilbert of the books? Because the Gilbert of Anne with an ‘E’ is the soppiest saint around.
I suppose, after all that, I ought to say something ‘nice’ about the series. So I will say that the actress playing Rachel Lynde (Corrine Koslo) is brilliant. I enjoyed that they kept her opinionated and gossipy while also establishing a genuine friendship between her and Marilla.
Verdict: DANGER! DO NOT WATCH THIS PROGRAMME! THIS IS NOT THE ANNE OF GREEN GABLES YOU ARE LOOKING FOR! TURN BACK NOW!