Saturday, August 14, 2021

Modernizing a Classic: What I Enjoyed about Anne with an E


From 2017 - 2019, the reimagined story of my favorite red-headed orphan streamed on Netflix. Anne with an E had a loyal following, but despite a fan campaign for a fourth season, the third season wound up being its last. 

Reviews of this series are wide ranging in opinions--from those who loved the grittier, less romanticized version of Anne's story to those who denounced the far shift from the original Lucy Maud Montgomery books and topics geared toward an older audience. As Kevin Sullivan continued his move away from the Anne of Green Gables series source material with the movies Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story and Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning, I stopped following new franchise offerings, like the three PBS L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables movies starring Martin Sheen as Matthew Cuthbert. 

After a few stressful weeks filled with tons of work, I decided to unwind with Anne with an E, which is currently on Netflix. I hope you will humor me sharing my thoughts on the series. I opted to break this down into multiple posts to make it easier to read and, hopefully, give you a reason to come back for more. Spoilers will be in white text. 

What I Enjoyed about Anne with an E

1. There is more backstory for many characters. 

The familiarity with Anne's story necessitates the need for more backstory to keep things fresh. What really happened to her before she came to Green Gables? How about Matthew and Marilla? What was their life like growing up? What was Marilla's courtship with John Blythe like? Anne with an E explores more of all of their lives.

Anne's backstory is tough to digest. It is often shared through flashbacks of the torment she endured prior to coming to Green Gables. When she is teased by the school children of Avonlea, she flashes back to the days she was tortured by other children at the orphanage. Anne also struggles with not knowing more about her parents. 

The producers of Anne with an E also created more of a backstory for the Cuthberts. They created an older brother, who died. As a result, Marilla and Matthew's mother retreated to bed and never recovered. Marilla ended her courtship with John Blythe because she was needed at home to take care of Matthew. 

2. Anne is the catalyst for change in her community.

In some ways, Anne always was. She won over the people of Avonlea in the books and in the 1985 adaptation starring Megan Follows. Anne's charm, intelligence, abundant imagination, and knack for getting into and out of trouble--usually with great flourish--helped the people of Avonlea see things differently. However, Anne's story as written by Lucy Maud Montgomery was not usually about societal change; though we can see a feminist slant in how Anne and Marilla are created--something, I applaud. 

Anne with an E definitely is about how Anne creates societal change within her community and it starts right away. In the first episode of Season 1, Marilla tries to explain why they can't keep Anne. She says they wanted a boy to help Matthew with the farm work, so Anne asks if she can do the work. Marilla explains that is not the way of things, to which Anne replies, "Girls can do anything a boy can do and more."  Good for you, Anne. 

But, wait, there is so much more. Fans know from the books and the 1985 series that Diana (Anne's best friend) Barry's great aunt Josephine Barry is considered a spinster. She is a wealthy woman who chose not to marry. In Anne with an E, Miss Barry is said to have lived with another independent woman Diana has always called Aunt Gertrude, who has recently passed away. As the story develops, Anne discovers that Aunt Jo and Aunt Gertrude were partners in every sense of the word; something that rocks Diana's world considering the view of same-sex couples at the time. It will be Anne who helps Diana to change her way of thinking. 

Series creator Moira Walley-Beckett also wanted to include a queer person as one of Anne's peers. Cole works on his family's farm and is a budding artist. Like Anne, he is harassed by Billy Andrews and their teacher Mr. Phillips. Anne and Cole become good friends and she allows him to come to their story club spot to create his artwork. Not only is she accepting of who Cole is, she is not shy in defending him when needed. 

Anne is the one who suggests the school paper print an obituary of Mary Lacroix after she dies of sepsis. Mary and her husband Sebastian were the only two People of Color to live in Avonlea. Gilbert Blythe met Sebastian, lovingly called Bash by his friends, while working on a steamship. 

After Anne publishes a controversial editorial on equality in the paper, the Avonlea Board of Trustees--led mostly by men--votes either the paper is shut down or is only allowed to cover topics the Board approves. Anne rallies the students of the Avonlea school to protest because freedom of speech is a human right and quickly gains the support of many of the townspeople.

3. Secondary or minor characters get more screen time and storylines.

While it is not clear to book fans, it seems Prissy Andrews (a relation of Jane and Billy Andrews) marries the Avonlea school teacher, Mr. Phillips. As fans of Anne of Green Gables will recall, Prissy was studying for the entrance exam to Queen's Academy with the help of Mr. Phillips when Anne started school. It is made quite clear that Prissy is his special project.

In Anne with an E, Prissy (said to be the oldest sister of Jane and Billy in this series) and Mr. Phillips become engaged, but Prissy leaves him at the altar to go on to college. When she returns to the family home in Avonlea, she does her best to display her talent with finance and numbers to her father, who continues to remind her to focus on how useful she can be to a future husband. That does not deter Prissy, who is determined to be instrumental in the success of the Andrews family's enterprises.

Josie Pye, Anne's nemesis in the books and the series/movie adaptations, is more than Anne's rival in Anne with an E. Though not accepting of Anne at the beginning, when Diana and the other girls take a stand, Josie would rather be included than excluded. She is often seen hanging out with Anne, Diana, Jane, Ruby Gillis, and Tillie Boulter inside of and outside of school. She does, however, maintain her nasty side until...

There is an incident with a boy and Anne rushes to Josie's defense. Though this blows up in ways Anne couldn't have imagined, and Josie is furious with her for a time, Josie eventually realizes that Anne's heart was in the right place and joins them when the children take a stand against the paper being censured. 

In Anne with an E, the Cuthberts have a hired hand named Jerry Baynard to help them with the farm work. This almost makes me wonder if either Jerry was too young (he was around Anne's age) or if the Cuthberts could no longer keep paying him, because Marilla and Matthew wanted to adopt a boy to help them with the farm.

I honestly don't remember more than the occasional mention of a hired hand in the books, so it is interesting to see Jerry Baynard get so much attention in Anne with an E. He meets Anne in the first episode, and she instantly sees him as a threat to her ability to stay at Green Gables. Through the series their friendship toddles along, and Anne even teaches him to read and write. Anne's outbursts of temper are sometimes directed Jerry's way, which usually leaves him confused. It is his involvement with another girl, however, that makes his life so challenging. 

Miss Muriel Stacy is hired as the new school teacher after Mr. Phillips leaves Avonlea. Viewers first see her using vegetables dipped in paint to make pretty stencils on the walls of her new home. To the children's delight and to the parents' dismay, she rides a motor bike and can be seen wearing pants from time to time. Unlike the Miss Stacy you may remember from the books and previous film adaptations, this Muriel Stacy is a widow. Mrs. Rachel Lynde, the town busybody, is determined to find her a husband and spends a lot of time trying to set her up on dates with eligible men. 

In addition to newer methods of teaching, Miss Stacy is a staunch supporter of her students. She agrees to tutor Gilbert prior to the start of class so he can catch up on what he missed while away taking care of his father. She organizes the school paper and even gets them an old printing press, which she fixes with Matthew's help; though she is pretty handy by herself. And when a member of the Board of Trustees screams at her to control her children during the freedom of speech rally, she says they are not children and they are not out of control. She hopes for and helps her students work toward creating an enlightened Avonlea.  

4. The introduction of Indigenous characters and People of Color. 

The Canadian Encyclopedia states the existence of the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne predates the establishment of the international border in 1783. The first Black person arrived in Canada in 1608. Despite this, the novels and previous film adaptations did not feature characters such as these. 

Producers of Anne with and E discovered Charlottetown, PEI had a community settled in the early 19th century by freed Black slaves known as The Bog. So, they incorporated that history into Season 2. After the death of John Blythe, Gilbert sets out to fulfill his father's dream of seeing the world. While working on a steamship, he meets Sebastian "Bash" Lacroix. Bash ends up returning with Gilbert to Avonlea to work as partners on the farm. Bash travels to The Bog, where he meets his future wife, Mary, who he brings back with him to Avonlea.

At the beginning of Season 3, we see the boys of Avonlea on the icy pond playing hockey. Ka‘kwet, a Mi’kmaq girl, appears with her father (Aluk). Aluk makes quality hockey sticks for the boys. Anne befriends Ka‘kwet and asks to interview her and her family for the school newspaper, which doesn't go over very well with the lily white folks of Avonlea who already find it challenging enough to accept Sebastian and Mary Lacroix. 

5. The new ways in which familiar scenes were recreated.

Anne coming to Green Gables and discovering they had wanted a boy, Anne cracking her slate over Gilbert's head on her first day of school, Anne dying her hair, and other familiar scenes work their way into Anne with an E.  How could it be Anne of Green Gables without them? The tweaks to them is what makes them special in this series. 

Anne's hair dying trauma comes after the Cuthberts had already decided to keep her, so it became more about growing pains for her as she had to attend school with her hair cropped close to her head; something most of the boys didn't let pass without teasing her. 

I've pretty much already written a novel with this post, so I will stop here. Did you ever watch Anne with an E? If so, what are some things you enjoyed about it? Did you wish it would have continued for the planned Seasons 4 and 5? 


Susan B James said...

I love the backstory for so many of the characters. Especially Aunt Josephine.
Diana changed completely but I love the change. it was really interesting.
And it was fun seeing new material added to the show since I was so familiar with the end books. Yeah there’s a lot of stuff social commentary. Do you know in Rilla of Ingleside, there was a lot of social some commentary. And that is one of my favorite and books. So all in all I liked it obviously, I was aware of everything that was changed. I feel very at home in Anne’s world and seeing in a different light was interesting.

Cheryl said...

I am glad for additional backstory, too, Susan.

It has been so many years since I read, Rilla of Ingleside, but I remember that, and how it is more about the women's war experiences than the men's.

Thanks for sharing.