Anne with an E

It’s going to be a minute before I get back into the swing of finishing and posting book reviews – so, in the meantime, I’ll go back to my Anneish roots.

– The credits are glorious. And here’s why.

There has been news floating on the interwebs about a new Anne adaptation for quite a while. I had heard there was going to be something set in the present day, which worried me; “Green Gables Fables” was cute, but I don’t know how it would work in a more professional effort. And then I saw the first online posts about “Anne with an E”. Welp, I figured, I have Netflix and an hour, let’s give it a shot.

I loved the first episode. Actually, I was a little giddy after the first episode. Amybeth McNulty is amazing. Honestly, I prefer her appearance and performance to Megan Follows’s, and I never thought I’d be able to say that. Tall, skinny, carroty (sorry, luv), big shining eyes, and the acting chops to pull off Anne’s speeches – I was thrilled. (Not the kind of thrill you get from finding grubs under rocks, mind you – that came later.)

It doesn’t take long to come across the word “gritty” when looking for information on this series. And I get it. It’s not exactly “The Wire”, but Anne suffers flashbacks – PTSD? – that in the first episode I applauded. I’d spared a sympathetic thought for Anne’s treatment by the families she’d lived with before Green Gables, but I can’t say I’d ever thought about it much. LMM doesn’t ever dwell on it. On Netflix, you’re not given a choice. Her life was horribly harsh before Mrs. Spencer took her away, and where it’s not so much glossed over as put firmly behind in the book, it bubbles up here. A baby screaming on the train to Bright River sends her right back to life with the Hammonds. And (was it this episode?) “quiet as a mouse” becomes a phrase to cause full-body shudders.

And I thought it was good – important. Realistic. She had no real upbringing – she was there to take the brunt of the work, and she was an all but complete autodidact. And, really, even I admit there’s only so much you can get from books.

There is a flashback scene in which other girls at the orphanage, fed up with her flights of fantasy, dangle a dead mouse in her face … that was hard to watch, but, again, realistic. Not, upon reflection, true to the spirit of the book, in which Anne overcomes not only time and space but any objections, and wins over all comers – but realistic.

The biggest departure from the book in Episode 1 was the Incident of the Amethyst Brooch. In the book, she’s been at Green Gables a little while, and is very much looking forward to her first picnic, held by the Sunday School. When Marilla’s brooch disappears, she blames Anne; Anne denies any knowledge. Marilla (headachy, if I recall), doesn’t believe her and tells her there will be no picnic unless she confesses. Whereupon Anne retires, invents a wonderful confession, and then is shocked when that does not get her passage to the picnic but in fact greater punishment. And then Marilla locates the brooch and all is forgiven and forgotten in time to get Anne to the picnic, where she has a simply scrumptious time.

In the series, the brooch disappears mere days after Anne’s arrival; Marilla blames Anne, who denies any knowledge – and Marilla tells her she will be sent back to the orphanage unless she confesses. So Anne, facing that choice, makes up a pretty decent confession on the spot – and is horribly shocked to find herself on the back of a cart headed for the train. Only then does Marilla find the brooch, and immediately Matthew gallops off to try to intercept her. End of episode.

Okay, I thought. That’s different. But … after all, I thought, it wouldn’t be that easy to convey onscreen what was so clear in the book, that Anne wanted, needed, this picnic with all the strength of her being, and that being denied it was nearly as harsh a blow as being sent back to the orphanage might be. (Well, no, not “nearly”, but it would feel like it to her.) “Confess or you go back” is a clear and immediately understandable threat. I was all right with it. I was not so much all right with Matthew’s heroic ride – a man in his sixties with a heart condition being sent off so was kind of horrifying. But as the first episode ended I was still pretty happy. I wasn’t enthralled by the Barrys – what the heck? – but I kind of liked her animosity for Jerry, the hired boy; I thought it was only sensible that he ought to be an actual character instead of a name in the background.

Then I watched the second episode.

The escapade continues: Matthew misses the train, and his horse is exhausted, and he hitches a ride, and he is run over by a carriage and taken to an apparently quite wealthy house to have his injuries tended to, and then he gets up and gets on the ferry, and gets to the orphanage and nobody knows where Anne is until he happens to meet the milkman and the milkman mentions the fact that he gave a little girl a ride and Matthew catches up to Anne at another train station where she is trying to get to Bolingbroke and is reciting poetry for train fare and she yells at him because of what he and Marilla have put her through but then he calls her his daughter and they go home.

And that’s only the first half or so. I kept waiting for the rich folk who helped Matthew to turn out to be Josephine Barry and family, but they never even got a name. Matthew and Anne get home, Marilla is stolid and doesn’t really welcome her or apologize, they go to the picnic and barely make it within its perimeter before the snickering and nasty remarks drive Anne off running for shelter, to sob in the forest. The Barrys hold Diana from going forward to meet her; even the minister makes a snide remark; everyone questions her character and the Cuthberts’ sanity. It’s ugly. Marilla goes and finds Anne, and at the end of the episode she and Matthew ask Anne to sign their Bible and take their name. She decides to be Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, and the episode ends on what the guys from Mission Log call a laugh and a freeze frame.

Oh… kay… This episode bore almost no resemblance at all to the book. The only point of comparison is that there was a picnic – and this picnic was a disaster. The people there were not the natives of Avonlea that I have always known and loved. I was much less happy after this episode, but Amybeth McNulty in particular kept me hoping.

Then I watched the third episode.

Hm.

I will probably come back to that. I need time to process how incredibly awful it was in some ways. Not, I hasten to add, in quality or intent, I suppose, but … *shudder* In the meantime – happythoughts, happythoughts – look at these credits!!

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