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6.13.2017

Anne With An E

Anne with an E, streaming on Netflix, interprets L.M. Montgomery's story of an orphan girl adopted by siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert from the fictional Prince Edward Island town of Avonlea much more accurately than the rosy adaption of Anne of Green Gables starring Megan Follows from the 80s.  Writer Moria Walley-Beckett depicts an Anne harrowed by memories of living as the overworked hired hand for enormous, destitute families.  She's much more worldly than the sheltered girls in Avonlea, revealing to them stories about sex that create a scandal in the small town, and deepens Anne's despair and sense of isolation.

Given the stark transition that Anne makes when she leaves her orphan life and becomes part of the Cuthbert family, Walley-Beckett's darker adaptation is much more accurate to what would have taken place.  Trying to break a little girl of no breeding into a community where finishing school was implicit was undoubtedly no small feat, and the Cuthberts would have had an enormous task convincing the community that Anne could associate with their girls and not contaminate them.

I read recently that Montgomery had a rather dark and bleak childhood that bled into the Anne character she created and, well, it just was never brought home in the Megan Follows adaptation.  (Perhaps this Anne series can stand alone, but the Canadian 80s version is so etched in my (and everyone else's!) memory that one could hardly make a new version of the story without constant comparison to the other.)

Matthew, Marilla and Anne are all excellently cast.   Anne is skinny with freckles and an optimistic Pippi Longstocking-esque personality.  Marilla is stern and practical and rather plain, and Matthew kind and quiet and gentle.  

The rest of the characters.....well perhaps not so well cast.  The school girls (including Prissy Andrews, Josie Pie, and Diana Barry) remind me of life size versions of American Girl Dolls.  I had a hard time seeing actual people behind their puff-sleeve dresses and pristine hair.  The teacher, too, seems like a caricature of the 'stern school teacher' with his thin mustache and turn-of-century suit and overtly stern and stiff bearing.   And Gil (you can't go wrong with him and have a successful show!)--he looked too much to me like a millennial in costume.

The show also becomes cheesy in parts, as though maybe you're watching afternoon soap opera with suicide attempts and unlikely plot twists to create drama (um, the house guests in the last episode.....).     However, if you don't have a romantic, idealistic attachment to Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie, I'd recommend giving this Anne interpretation a try.

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