Zip along if you don’t wish to read about an obscure Netflix show. Or maybe not so obscure, I am out of that loop.
Anne with an E. WTF, Netflix?
The good. It’s beautifully shot. I do mean gorgeous. I’m thrown back to the Megan Follows version, with Kevin Sullivan at the helm. The one with Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla. The good one.
The scenery has that superb lushness we associate with Prince Edward Island. There’s giant fields of flowers, there’s waving seas of grain, there’s forest thickets just perfect for trysts and adorable walks by imaginative girls…okay. The backdrops for the series are just about pitch perfect. Great. Good! Well done.
The actress, Amybeth McNulty, playing Anne Shirley embodies that nearly archetypal character as best she can. As written for this series, Anne is a frantic, charmless waif who seems shellshocked and off-center far too much to win anyone over, let alone gain the love of the two who live at Green Gables. She reminds me of those dogs that are deprived of attention and correcting measures. The ones that leap up at your face with frantic ‘lovemeloveme!’ energy that’s so off-putting and even alarming if the dog is big enough to knock you down.
Which is not at all how Anne appears in the first book of the eight book series. Anne, as written, is a voluble, charming child you can’t help but love. She’s amusing and bright, with practical streaks among the fancies.
Yes, there are eight books. The last one takes us through WWI. Rilla of Ingleside. It blends tragedy and humor so much better than Anne with an E ever tried to.
I do like the latest versions of Marilla and Matthew. Both are given some time with their love gone wrong backstories to explain their present single states. It is hinted at in the books that Marilla and Gilbert’s dad were perhaps sweethearts but I cannot remember anything love-ward with Matthew. He was written as too leery and scared of women to ever go courting. He has to overcome a lot to get Anne’s dress with the beloved puff sleeves made, for instance.
Marilla here is portrayed as far less harsh and rigid. The Dewhurst version came straight from the books, with Marilla’s nature slowly revealed as she falls in love with her charge and starts thinking of her as a daughter. Not so with the current, much softer Miss Cuthbert. We get to see a lot more of her pain. She has actual emotions!
Did nobody read the books they based their series on?? Fine. Okay. Fine!
I also love the current Mrs. Lynde. The actress has this low, rich theatrical voice as well as a truly sweet, old-fashioned face, so you can forgive her quite easily for her ‘gossipy’ ways.
And let’s take on the mean girls of Avonlea school, shall we? Holy crap.
Anne blunders her way through the first day of school and it’s a nightmare to watch. She goes from telling tales of her life and what she knows of men and their ‘pet mice’ to pariah supreme. What the actual fuck? Everyone hates her by the end, Diana has to run interference and Billy Andrews has been turned into a abusive bully.
There’s even a hint of sexual violence toward Anne when he sneers about getting her alone to teach her a lesson.
Yes, such things happen in the real world and happened back then. Yes, they did. Do I want that much reality intruding over into the Green Gables world? No, I freaking do not.
We have Josie Pye turned into every last mean girl stereotype out there, from being a domineering megabitch to an unforgiving one-dimensional megabitch supreme. We have the other girls just falling in line with her and Diana coming across as more of a coward than anything else when she attempts nothing to defend her new friend from these vulturous sorts. Other than promising to ‘talk’ to them to smooth things over. Who wants a friend like that?
Anne is further traumatized by all this, we see flashbacks of her being tortured with a dead mouse by girls at the orphanage and holy buttons of bullshit, what am I watching???
A term crosses through my befuddled head at this point. Misery porn.
This is misery porn.
The heartaches, tragedies, meanness of the world and so forth, piled high over poor Anne Shirley like a tsunami about to rip apart miles of inland range.
Granted, I’ve only seen the first season of this.
Did I mention Anne only gains some grudging acceptance when she helps fight a fire at the Gillis household? Ruby Gillis, one of the easily led about girls from Josie Pye’s gang of Mean Prairie Girls, has to go stay at Green Gables as her house gets repaired. She throws an actual fit but grudgingly comes to like Anne but we know the second there’s some whiff about Anne that doesn’t seem right to the other girls, she’ll be against her again.
And we see Anne try to conform to what everyone wants her to be, which creates even more trauma and conflict for her. Ugh! Yes, real world shit but in the rather magical reality that is Avonlea kindness and sweetness, no. No!
And Gilbert. The bane and eventual love of Anne’s life. If you do not already know the Anne of Green Gables tale, well, sorry. This post is probably not for you, anyway.
Oh dear. This Gilbert is also tarred and feathered with the constant tragedy brush. His dad is sick, super sick. Consumption is my guess as he went to Denver, CO for the air, which is where people went, if they could, so they could breathe in the ‘healing’ this or that of mountain clime. Gilbert, at about fourteen or so, is in charge of the entire farming operation as well as caring for his father. He does stand up for Anne, and yes, calls her ‘carrots’, which earns him her ‘eternal’ scorn. And she’s been warned, by the other Mean Prairie Gals, that Gilbert belongs to Ruby.
This does ring true. Girls do do this at school and in life. They mark their territory, as it were. My mother said women were like horses. That we have a lead mare, that we fall in line with that lead mare. Mm.
Anne, desperate for love and approval, obeys this edict that she not have anything to do with Gilbert and we’re off!
I did like when Anne got her period. A subject never once addressed in L. M. Montgomery’s writing. Pregnancy was also not discussed beyond it being a ‘blessing’, well, as long as you were properly married. Ahem. Remember that Lucy Ricardo, of I Love Lucy, was the first to show pregnancy and such, in the 1950’s. Women and their bodies have pretty much always been under extreme scrutiny, control, shaming and even taboos.
We also get a glimpse into how women of that era dealt with menstrual flows, by pinning folded over cotton strips to their underwear. We even get tips on how to wash these pre-Stayfree pads by Marilla, in a rather kind, practical voice that was welcome yet jarring. The actual Marilla would probably not have been so understanding and helpful and soothing.
We also get a whispered scene where the schoolgirls discuss their own forays into new womanhood. Ruby, of course, has not yet gotten her ‘courses’.
You so rarely see any scenes in movies or film that deal honestly and actually with menstruation, so the episode that covered this topic was perhaps my favorite of the first season. There was humor and pathos and we got to see the bonding of the girls.
We also got a great conversation between Marilla and Mrs. Lynde over this topic. How Mrs. Lynde, mother of ten, preferred being pregnant to having her period each month. It was a frank exchange that worked. I could hear women in that era discussing just that, with the men safely out of earshot as they canned veggies or fruits.
It was the same in my family. I heard the most interesting stuff when the women of my family gathered together. The same frankness. The use of language not ‘appropriate’ for ladies, etc, etc. My grandmother saying the C word, and how we all laughed, the dirty belly giggles of women having to pretend they didn’t know such words at all.
I’ll end this ramble with how much I enjoy the opening credits. I like the song and the art work is exquisite. Also, at the start of season two, we have Anne running about the woods, interacting with nature and I am hoping we get more of that joyful, silly Anne but it doesn’t seem likely as I read blurbs of following episodes.
I think I am tired and exhausted by the real world depravities, war in Ukraine, American extremism starting to ruin everything around me and general WTF? bewilderment over the news items rushing through the worst timeline, as ‘they’ put it.
Are we in the worst timeline for our times? Yeah. I think we are.
Do I want an Anne Shirley series steeped in darkness, near madness over abuses, townspeople and schoolchildren turned into monsters and so forth? Nope! Because there doesn’t seem to be anything to counter any of that misery gushing from every last scene of Anne with an E.
It’s a valuable lesson to me as a writer. Throw in some goddamn happiness once in a while. Message received!