Anne With an E: Netflix Series Review

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By: Jessica Alewine (@awkwardalewine)

Last Friday, Netflix premiered the latest attempt to adapt L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables with Anne with an E. The series, created in association with Canada’s CBC, endeavors to adapt the beloved tale of young Anne Shirley for the small screen. Netflix has seen much success lately in adaptations, including The Little Prince and A Series of Unfortunate Events, so many, including myself, expected Anne with an E to prove itself to be an accurate adaptation worthy of much fanfare. However, due to a lack of faithfulness to the original content, a misinterpreted tone, and a forceful amount of political messaging, the series will leave many viewers feeling distraught that their favorite series has been given such a shameful treatment. That said, those who can look past the adaptation’s failures to see the heart of the series might find themselves enraptured by the stunning cinematography, the charming acting, and the heartbreaking story Anne with an E presents.

Anne of Green Gables has been beloved for centuries for its charming heroine, bright storyline, and hopeful message. Despite the heartbreaking ending of the first book in the series, Anne of Green Gables always remained a bright and cheerful story. The Netflix version of the series, however, is bleak from the beginning and only grows darker. The series, like the original book, follows young orphan Anne Shirley as she attempts to find a home with the elderly Cuthbert siblings. The book and the show both explore her transition from a lonely, overworked orphan to a beloved daughter. They both showcase her friendship with Diana Barry, her growing rivalry with Gilbert Blythe, and her struggles to fit in a town that’s not quite sure what to make of her. The similarities, honestly, end there. While the major plot points of the book are preserved, including the beloved slate scene, cherry cordial mishap, and the Minnie Mae incident, we are given a much darker take on the story.

SPOILERS AHEAD


The writers and creators of the show not only take creative liberties in adding a traumatic backstory for young Anne, but they add further trauma for the whole town. Matthew and Marilla are both given tragic romances from their youth and a childhood trauma centered on the death of an invented younger brother. One of Anne’s classmates is found to be in an inappropriate relationship with her teacher and teased about it by the rest of the class. The writers also took the liberty of writing in the death of Gilbert Blythe’s father, in what I assume is an attempt to create common ground for Anne and Gilbert, and give Matthew a non-fatal heart attack, which leads him to nearly commit suicide. The original story, which already featured its share of heartbreak, was given a slew of problems not fitting with the original tone or characters of the novel. While the series retains the major plot points of the original book, it has adopted a bleak tone more fitting a story by one of the Bronte sisters.

END SPOILERS


In addition to the added trauma and heartache, the writers took the liberty to add in political messaging not originally in the story. While feminism is clearly relevant to the story of Anne, it was not featured as heavily in the original story as it is in this adaptation. This is not a major point of irritation for me, since I did agree with the message, but it seemed rather forceful and heavy-handed. Anne is considered a feminist icon, with her great value of education and her equal relationship with her male peers, but they took it a bit far here. I fear that unlike the original story, this adaptation will be too serious and too embedded with messages to appeal to a younger audience. It makes it far less accessible for younger viewers. This had such a great opportunity to create a new generation of Anne of Green Gables fans, and I worry that opportunity was missed.

That said, the show itself was fairly enjoyable if you could overlook the fact that it was supposed to be an adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. The cinematography was stunning and I was every bit as much in love with Green Gables as Anne was. The tight shots of actors in pivotal moments, the soft lighting, and the wide shots of the scenery create a cozy setting that is absolutely addicting. I found myself more interested in the filming techniques and methods than the story, despite the abundance of drama. The creators said they were inspired by the cinematography in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, and the filming similarities are evident. Fans of that film will fall in love with the cinematography of this series.

Additionally, the acting, particularly by young Amybeth McNulty and Lucas Jade Zumann – Anne and Gilbert, respectively – was incredibly layered and nuanced. While the character of Anne was slightly butchered by this adaptation, with her mental distress and imaginative speeches combining to seem psychotic, McNulty fully committed to the character and brought the writing to life. Her emotional displays during her rejection, her traumatic flashbacks, and her own growing feelings for Gilbert will leave viewers gutted. Zumann, our young Gilbert, turns the originally aggravating character into the ultimate charmer, which is out of place in the series but speaks to the abilities of the young actor. I predict now that we will be seeing more of both of these young actors going forward.

Finally, while the plot itself might be the most problematic part of this adaptation, it is still an important story to be told. There isn’t a lot of media out there that accurately represents the struggles of orphans in the late 1800s. The story, while incredibly dark and bleak, is a stunning tale of redemption, adoption, and family. It’s just not the story of Anne Shirley we’ve all come to know and love.

There are two major takeaways from watching Anne with an E. First, this is an absolutely terrible adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. The tone, the characters, and the delightful nature of the original story were all disregarded in favor of a new, more serious story. Fans of the book will find themselves sorely disappointed and potentially enraged by the new adaptation. Second, this can be enjoyed as a solid period piece if the viewer is able to detach from any feelings about the original book. If you’re a diehard fan of the book, I’d avoid watching this series, but if you’re a casual fan or even just a Netflix addict, I’d encourage you to give it a try.


    9 Comments

  1. SarahMay 18th, 2017 at 9:27 am

    Thank you, Jessica! I am a die-hard fan of the Anne books and was cautiously considering watching this series but your great review saved me the inevitable frustration of yet another horribly inaccurate adaptation.
    Best,
    Sarah (with an “h”)

  2. D JorgensenMay 18th, 2017 at 10:49 am

    I agree with this review. I thought it was very dark for this story. I was hoping for a new show for a new generation and this is not it! It is well made and the actors are excellent!

  3. JMay 18th, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Thank you! This is exactly what I feel! I was horrified by the pilot

  4. Cindy McMurryMay 18th, 2017 at 7:52 pm

    I have enjoyed every episode. I had read so many negative reviews and had determined to watch with no expectations and an open mind. I was pleasantly surprised and frankly don’t see what the problem is. Anne is just as inspiring as she ever was, and this series left me wanting more. Her character goes deeper in this series which in my opinion reaches a broader audience. This fiery little redhead has once again stolen my heart. I would be proud to watch Anne with an E with my grandaughters.

  5. Jo S.May 19th, 2017 at 11:13 am

    I am a die-hard fan of the Anne books and Megan Follows movies. Part of me was disappointed in the fact that they did stray from the original story. However, once I got over my initial shock, I was able to see how beautiful the shots were and the effort into making this adaptation reach a larger younger audience then it might off. I’ve already binged watched what was on Netflix and enjoyed the ups and downs of Anne as I always have. Even if you are a die-hard like myself, I recommend that you give it a chance.

  6. SharlzGMay 23rd, 2017 at 2:58 am

    I’m a fan of the Megan Follows series and enjoyed the books when I read them back in school, but am still enjoying this adaptation. I’m only 4 eps in, but I really like the depth they’ve given to Anne by expanding on her past – were we’d previously had the slightest hint of how hard her past was, this gave her a very real, very horrible past that made it so much more clear why Green Gables was so special to her – it truly was paradise. The Follows version is lovely and whimsical and has a lot to do with my long-standing desire to visit Canada, and I will always love and enjoy it, but I really like the depth that this adaptation brings.

  7. Ian AnthonyMay 25th, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Good review.
    For me, watching this series once a week on CBC here in Canada (& as a fan of the novel & the classic Sullivan adaptation) was a bit like having a gluttonous meal once a week at a fast food joint. It seems satisfying at first but after 7 weeks, one is in a state of disbelief. It doesn’t taste that good really, so why do I keep coming back here? The fries are really– I mean, the photography is really, good. The apple pie– I mean, the acting, is… really good.

    Was it nourishing? Uh no, but let me tell you about the.. Oh, never mind.

  8. Peggy MageeMay 26th, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    There will always be spoilers who will try to ruin the sheer bliss of those who would certainly love this series as I have. Spoil away and I will defend and promote this series to those who are unsure but I was hooked on the the series after the first sentence. Hooked and never disappointed. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

  9. VaudreeMay 31st, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    1. It was an older invented sibling – Matthew is the youngest and, thus, has the least education.
    2. While the scene where Mrs Andrews of the sewing circle says that she has big plans for her daughter Prissy is invented, Mr Philips’s inappropriate designs on her are in the book. Billy Andrews, the misogynist bully is her son.
    3. While Matthew engaging in “breadwinner behaviour” is not in the book, it seems to be there to show that, unlike patriarchy which makes being a breadwinner the sole value of a man, Anne values Matthew for his shy gentle kind self and his ability to love her the way she is. While Anne does still like puffed sleeves, she loves Matthew so much more. I take this scene as telling us something about Anne even as she remains completely oblivious to it.
    4. It makes sense that Anne would fear the worst (memories) while hoping for the best (words, imagination). The memories correspond to unknown situations which she is about to face.
    5. We are told the plan is to have five seasons based on the first book, which means that iconic scenes that haven’t happened yet can still happen, though also more invented chapters and backstories. All the invented scenes seem to tell us something more about the characters.
    6. We know that the Cuthberts live at Green Gables for a long time yet – so the money makes it to the bank after the holidays …

    Things that happen right from the get go in the book happen more slowly in the series – and I think that is a plus. I like that Anne slowly loses her insecurity and starts to accept that this is permanent. Matthew’s risk, meant to improve their fortunes but which backfires royally, was meant to tackle Anne’s final insecurity – because when families faced hard times that was when she was usually sent back. I also think that winning people over one by one is better than walking into class and suddenly being the cool kid – she gets there either way, but we see how she does it.

    Anne’s gasp, in the book, when she thought that Mrs Blewett might be taking her – she knew exactly what she would be walking into. And the book hints very strongly that, while Anne dodged a bullet, some unlucky girl would be going there in her place. It was written so that adults could grasp what was going on but kids wouldn’t.

    I am one of those who need a season two because, while I know the outcome (from reading the books), I want to know how it is resolved.

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