Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Anne with an E on Netflix

The miniseries Anne on the CBC has now finished the first season and is headed to Netflix (as Anne with an E). Our beloved Anne Shirley from Lucy Maude Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables book series has been re-imagined for the new millennium and it is not your mother's (or grandmother's) Anne! For those who don't know the LM Montgomery books, Anne Shirley is an orphan sent to be adopted by unmarried siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert who were expecting a boy to help out on the farm in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island. Anne is picked up by Matthew at the train station and the mix-up doesn't get explained to Anne until she arrives at the idyllic Green Gables farm in Avonlea. Many of us grew up reading about Anne, Diana and Gilbert and this is the latest adaptation for television.

Amybeth McNulty and RH Thomson as Anne and Matthew in Anne with an E

I'll try to sum it up by saying that you'll either love it or you'll hate it, and possibly both simultaneously. Having written about period dramas for 7 years now, I've come to the realization that viewers have very strong opinions about new adaptations of old favourites. Some viewers want a verbatim version of the book, which is not only impossible, but would be boring. Some have already seen their definitive and beloved adaptation (in this case the 1980s version with Megan Follows) and anything else is heresy to them.

Megan Follows as Anne and Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert from 1985 Anne of Green Gables

I am fairly sure the latest generation of kindred spirits will truly enjoy Anne with an E, and hopefully their mothers and grandmothers will see that the timing was perfect for a brand new Anne. As much as I adore the Megan Follows version, the cinematography and scenery in Anne with an E will blow you away and make you want to pack your bags for P.E.I.

Dalila Bela and Amybeth McNulty as Diana and Anne

Anne with an E is an almost entirely female driven production which is a refreshing change for period drama which, although mostly consumed by females, is usually written, produced and directed by men. This is not the case here however. Moira Walley-Beckett of Breaking Bad fame is the Canadian screenwriter and was a producer. All of the producers are female and most of the directors are female. Interestingly, each episode was directed by a different person, although this is not apparent in the continuity of the series.

Geraldine James as Marilla Cuthbert

The acting is superb with English actress Geraldine James (who I remember as the uptight W.I. leader in Calendar Girls) as Marilla Cuthbert and Canadian stage and screen actor RH Thomson as her brother Matthew. Irish actress Amybeth McNulty is a truly wonderful Anne whose occasional misstep into hysteria can be forgiven because for the most part she is delightful. The supporting cast is also top notch including Lucas Jade Zumann from 20th Century Women as Gilbert Blythe.

Lucas Jade Zumann as Gilbert Blythe

Although he is a great actor, I am as yet unconvinced on Lucas Jade Zumann as Gilbert Blythe. Jonathan Crombie is still my Gilbert...sort of like my Mr. Darcy will always be Colin Firth. But he may grow on me as it seems we are going to get at least one more season of Anne.



  1. I wanted to like Anne with an E so much! I was never partial to the '80s version, so I was ready to like it. I was prepared for the 'pet mouse' part and excited for a more realistic portrayal of what an orphan in Anne's situation would experience. The first episode is nearly perfect--I love the cast, and the cinematography is fabulous. But then each succeeding episode diverged farther...and farther...and farther from the original story.

    I'm not a purist by any means--I usually dislike it when filmmakers just film the book, which doesn't make for good cinema--but what they did with Matthew (in the last episode) amounts to character assassination! And Gilbert wasn't handled any better--the docks? WTH. I'm fine with Anne having PTSD, but why introduce so many melodramatic subplots that muddy Anne's simple story of growing up, earning love and trust, and learning to excel?

    Maybe my problem is that I expected an adaptation, when clearly the makers are going for a long-running show in the tradition of Little House on the Prairie (which also has little to do with the books it's based on).

  2. I know I just proved your point about loving or hating the adaptation. I just had to get that all out because I don't know anyone else in person who has actually seen it.

    What it comes down to is that the invented plot episodes just don't ring true to me. If they did, I would have enjoyed it unabashedly. The most tragic thing for me is that the production is so good in every other way--such wasted talent. But that's just me. :)

    1. Hi Jane! Great to get your opinion on this one. I tried to stay neutral for this series, as I think the young ones will eat it up. As a woman closer to Marilla's age myself, I really sympathized with her and occasionally wanted to give Anne a good shake. I kept riding waves of loving it and hating it myself.

      I think you are right about the women behind this series wanting to go for multiple seasons. We in Canada had the series Road to Avonlea in the 1990s which made Sarah Polley famous and that one ran for years!

      On a completely unrelated note, I just previewed the final episode of Call the Midwife Series 6 and that show has stayed fabulous.

      Thanks for leaving a comment!

    2. I'm sure you're right about young ones eating it up. Geraldine James is so good as Marilla--I feel like her character stayed the most true to the original in how she was written.

      I'm in Texas, so I never saw The Road to Avonlea. Is it worth seeking out? Of course, The Story Girl is absolute my favorite Montgomery novel, so maybe I would be too hard on that one, too. :/

      I haven't kept up with Call the Midwife since Jenny left and they had finished all the stories in the books. Good to hear it's still good! Maybe I'll binge the last three seasons one of these days.

  3. I'm on the fence on this one. First, I adore the 1980's Kevin Sullivan adaptation. However, I also have hard feelings about his take on the books, because he really only stayed (sort of) true to the first book and skimmed the others. I have yet to see an adaptation that actually sticks to the story. This version is beautifully filmed, and I love the attention to the PEI landscape. I think that one problem many of my age might have is that we hold onto the 1980's version like a teddy bear and we are very sentimental when it comes down to it. However, the young teenagers chosen to play Anne and GIlbert actually look a lot more like the characters are described as in the book. I like that this version told a bit more about the Cuthbert's back story. The exterior of Green Gables ( and the land) look very similar to the real Green Gables, and it also looks similar to "Silverbush." Seeing the farm make me feel warm and fuzzy.
    This version is a bit more realistic of what a child that was raised in the the home system would have been like. The reality of home children was far more tragic than how it was told in the actual book. When a friend sent me an article about some of the content ( the mouse petting), I saw that this was a truer story that could never have been written for children, especially in 1908. Which brings me back to the teddy bear, we loved our teddy bears, but the reality of cuddling a real bear would be entirely different.
    So, I guess, I like this version, but just in a different way than the way I like the Kevin Sullivan version. I don't love it, I don't hate it, it's just different.

  4. When I read your review, I was ready to watch Anne with an E, but when I read the comments I am glad I didn't. I don't mind a new version, and I don't mind additional plot twists, but changing the gist of a character is beyond the pale.

    1. If you change your mind and give it a whirl, let me know! The very first episode is really wonderful. It is as the series progresses that it strays a bit. But then I love most literary adaptations of my fave books, with the possible exception of the most recent Mansfield Park with Billie Piper. That one was hard to choke down! :)

    2. Yes, Billie Piper as Fanny Price was one of the most miscast roles I've ever encountered.

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  6. Hi Jenny,
    Haven't heard from you for a while. I was wondering if you've seen The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or This Beautiful Fantastic? Also, the new Fantastic Beasts is Fantastic!

  7. Hi Jenny,
    I was wondering if you have any new recommendations. I loved the latest season of Victoria.

  8. Hi Jenny,
    Any new period drama that you've seen in the last while? Looking forward to The Crown and Mrs Maisal whenever it returns. Looking for stuff to cheer me up during this crazy time. Take care.




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