Anne With an E, Season 1 (2017)

 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

I often wonder if when Lucy Maud Montgomery created her insatiable redheaded orphan if she had any conception of the tremendous popularity the Prince Edward Island heroine would have the world over; Anne Shirley has outlived her author and defined each generation of girls who have laughed and cried alongside her, as she faced the world's challenges with her tremendous "scope for the imagination." Bringing her to life is a challenge; many consider the 1985 miniseries to be definitive, and recent remakes have met with varying degrees of disinterest... until now.

 

Green Gables will never be the same. Since Matthew (R. H. Thompson) is getting older and suffering a heart condition, he makes the decision with his spinster sister, Marilla (Geraldine James), to adopt an orphan boy from the mainland, to help out with the farm chores. He sets out to the train station to fetch him, while Marilla fields questions about their intentions from their inquisitive neighbor, Rachel Lynde (Corrine Koslo). Suspicious of outsiders and prejudiced against orphans, Rachel warns her of the perils of inviting a total stranger into their house, and plants ideas in her mind about the child's intentions. Fortunately, Marilla sighs, most of her stories revolve around girls and the Cuthberts are not getting a girl.

 

Or so they thought.

 

The only orphan waiting for Matthew at the station is Anne Shirley (Amybeth McNulty), who has wanted a family for so long, she spends the entire trip back pinching herself to make sure this is real and not a wonderful delusion; who dreams of sleeping in cherry trees, and is delighted that Matthew doesn't mind that she "talks too much, since it's ever so horrible to be told that children should be seen and not heard!" Matthew hasn't the heart to tell her there's been a terrible mix-up, but once she arrives at Green Gables, Marilla takes one look and breaks Anne's heart. They have no use for a boy, so she can go right back to the orphanage tomorrow morning! Marilla has her mind made up.

 

Or does she? Anne is devastated. Matthew is troubled. And after hearing the girl cry all night, Marilla isn't so sure herself. Perhaps she'll make her mind up riding across the island with Anne... and just perhaps, that little redheaded orphan girl will win over her heart, after all. She already has Matthew's.

 

I grew up on the 80's miniseries. I can still quote the entire thing verbatim if you give me a line. My brother and I spent hours acting out scenes from it together, using the couch cushions for bridge supports, couch cushions, and outhouse doors. I still am unable to decide if I love Anne Shirley so much because I was so much like her growing up, or if I was so much like her growing up because I loved her so much; but it doesn't much matter. Selling me a new version, when I have thirty years wrapped up in the old one, is no easy task. And this series accomplished it in twenty minutes flat. The minor issues I had with casting in the original are resolved here; and the story has room to breathe, expand, and become its own unique adaptation, supported by a terrific cast, a gut-wrenching script, and the beauty of Prince Edward Island.

 

Though the story often deviates and explores, since the screenwriter decided to ask, "What would happen in real life?" it's the performances that truly shine; everyone is exquisite, and each episode packs a profound lesson, a moral truth, or an insight into human nature. It shows us snippets of the Cuthberts' past through flashbacks, slows down to indulge Anne in her daydreams, sends Aunt Josephine on a stroll through the snowy woods to offer Anne advice, and doesn't hesitate to tug our heartstrings. The greatest transformation is in Marilla, who opens the series as a stern-faced, unflinching woman and ends it with genuine warmth and affection (but she's still frank). True puritans may object to some of the changes, and the discussion of a girl's first period, or a conversation about sex might raise a few eyebrows, but it's a perfect Anne for the modern age, with truths many people, young and old, need to hear.

     
Sexual Content:
Anne thinks because the teacher is affectionate with Prissy Andrews, they must be having "intimate relations." She innocently talks about a "pet mouse" in the teacher's pocket, and how Mrs. Hammond always got pregnant after she petted Mr. Hammond's mouse. She unknowingly implies Mrs. Hammond was raped more than once by her husband ("Sometimes it sounded like she enjoyed it, and other times, it sounded like he was murdering her"). The other girls shun her as "trash," for knowing such things; Marilla is upset when she hears about it, but Matthew tells her they should care less what Anne says than what others exposed her to, as an orphan. One episode features Anne getting her first period; conversation revolves around "becoming a woman," and "flowering time." Aunt Josephine grieves the loss of her lifelong female companion (she insinuates their life was "unconventional," but very happy -- ie, a lesbian couple).
 
Language:
None.
 
Violence:
Anne suffers from traumatic flashbacks to the orphanage and foster homes, where she endures physical and emotional violence (a woman strikes her across the face; a man gives her several blows with his belt; children pin her to the floor and torment her with a dead mouse).  She smacks Gilbert her slate. A boy bullies her at school and threatens her with violence; Gilbert later punches him in the face.

 
Other:
None.


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