Review: 10 Reasons to Go Deep into the Broken, Beautiful Heart of “Anne”

 Anne 3From the theme music–the Tragically Hip’s “Ahead of the World by a Century”–on, you know this interpretation of “Anne of Green Gables” will be like none other. 

I’m a Canadian expat, living in Michigan, so I was woebegone indeed at the thought of missing the world premiere. I schemed about making a run for the border, and then just for Detroit, where some hotels have the CBC. But then–HALLELUJAH!–it occurred to me that I know people…people with satellite dish hook-ups. People with the CBC!

So, along with my Torontonian friend Natalie (her very hair colour an homage to Anne), we journeyed to this undisclosed location, owned and operated by members of the Avonlea Mafia. We were even served imitation raspberry cordial as we watched! There were tears, there were laughs, but mostly we just looked at each other and gasped. “Wow”!

Written and executive produced by “Breaking Bad’s” scribe Moira Walley-Beckett, this new, super Canadian, 8-hour miniseries goes deep into the heart of Anne. She has a beautiful, glowing, hopeful heart, which has won over millions of readers since 1908. But realistically, her heart was also badly broken. There’s beauty in that, too. 

Many people won’t care for it. They won’t want Anne to be dark or gritty or pre-feminist, but I believe she was all those things.

I kept thinking of one of my favorite quotes as I watched, by fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen:

“There is a crack in everything–that’s how the light gets in.”

1.”Anne” is cracked, in the best possible way, the way that lets the light in. 

9 MORE Reasons to go deep into the broken, beautiful heart of Anne:

2. “Anne isn’t a remake, a reboot, a “re” anything at all. It’s simply one exceptional writer’s interpretation of a story and character with the potency to demand many interpretations. Like my friend Rachel McMillan, a Canadian and arch Lucy Maud Montgomery fan says, “People are all “I have my true adaptation” and I am all Why not farm for nuance in different ways with different adaptations? While the 1995 Pride and Prejudice is my favoriteI very much enjoyed watching the Keira Knightley (version).” Trust me, you can adore the 1986 Megan/Jonathan version (and I do!) and still be entranced with this one. I barely thought of that older version as I watched because they are just so different.  

3. If you really want to know Anne on more than a surface level, this just goes much deeper into her orphan’s soul. We expect our literary orphans to be plucky, resilient, even magical (Harry Potter, natch). But what most of them have endured is beyond the pale. Here, it’s hard to watch as Anne is beaten by her foster parents (aka “owners”) and horrifically bullied by her fellow orphans in the “asylum.”

But trauma is part of her story and part of what makes her our dreamy, imaginative, openhearted Anne. 

4. Her despair is not played totally for laughs, as it has been in other movies. Instead of laughing off her many peculiar speeches, Walley-Beckett takes a closer look and finds inner bruising and unfathomable vulnerability. When Anne says to Matthew (a superb R.H. Thompson), “Have you always wanted a daughter?” my heart pinged and pang-ed. Her needfulness is stark, at times, and not always easy to watch. But true to Anne? Yes. Honestly, Anne is all the more powerful when her orphan roots are exposed, not glossed over and charmed up beyond recognition. When Anne overhears Marilla say to Matthew, “only kin is kin,” before they decide to keep her, the message is loud and clear: You don’t belong, not really. Anne’s anxiety to be accepted is palpable. Adoptees hear these messages in different ways all their lives. Knowing this about Anne makes her eventual bond with the Cuthberts that much more heartwarming and triumphant. 

5. AmyBeth McNulty as Anne is adorable, and she can also speak volumes with those huge, fearful eyes. We know that she is not exaggerating when she says life for her has been “a howling wilderness,” yet when she smiles, the sun comes out.

Anne carries both hope and pain, which McNulty portrays with skill and substance. 

6. One reviewer made the apt comparison of this treatment to the works of the Bronte sisters. I recently read Jane Eyre and found myself comparing her and Anne at every turn.  I loved that here, Anne quotes Jane Eyre at the outset of the film. 

7. Josie Pye had her hands all over this thing! Yes, Mean Girl Josie Pye’s portrayer in the 1986 Sullivan film, Miranda de Pencier, is an executive producer of “Anne.” And she sincerely seems to love her NOW, as is evidenced in a “Globe and Mail” piece by Johanna Schneller:  

“(Anne) is a ferocious character, intelligent, thoughtful and full of heart, who comes into a tough world and infuses it with hope. And with a challenge to everyone around her to be authentic.”

8. Geraldine James as Marilla conveys so much with her face, which softens almost imperceptibly as Anne starts to get under her calloused skin. I was so pleased with how the scene with Mrs. Lynde went, you know, the one where Mrs. Lynde calls Anne ugly and homely and scrawny and …everything. And Anne goes Full Metal Jacket Nuts back at her? That scene was removed ENTIRELY from the other new AOGG, much to my dismay. It’s absolutely pivotal to the story, for it is the moment when Marilla Cuthbert becomes a mother.

I devote an entire chapter to it (“Lawful Heart, Did Anyone Ever See such Freckles?”) in “Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter and Me.”

9. I could write an entire blog on the wonders of R.H. Thompson as Matthew. I will wax on in another review (I plan to watch all 8 installments and review them for you before “Anne” hits ‘Merica on May 12.) But for now, I’ll just say that I am extremely particular when it comes to my Matthews and my Gilberts. Thompson passed my Matthew test, which is hard to do.

Stoic. Gentle. Almost wordless. And brimming with pent up fatherly love in his crusty old heart! Heroic! Oh, he’s perfect, just perfect. Anne 4

10. Prince Edward Island’s scenery is sublime. I was thrilled to see my Gentle Island on such gorgeous display throughout the film. Red, craggy cliffs. Green fields spilling into silvery harbors. Lighthouses and bucolic country paths. When I go there, I feel as if I belong there–my true home…sigh.

SO!

I’m not sure about what will happen in two weeks, because it looks like there will be wild deviations from the book. BUT! I was so won over by the first two hours that I may make an exception in my no wild deviation rule. If these deviations underscore some important part of Anne, I’m in. Probably. We’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?

What do my kindred spirits out there think? For those of you who have seen it, what do you think? I’m mostly hearing good things. And for those of you who are waiting for May 12, tell me your innermost thoughts!

Can you accept a more Jane Eyre-ish Anne? Can you accept Anne, broken orphan’s heart and all?

For more on “Anne”, including an interview with Anne’s portrayer, AmyBeth McNulty, here’s a link to L.M. Montgomery online, a website run by the wonderful LMM scholar Benjamin LeFebvre. Sign up for his site! He’s got lots of great content for kindred spirits.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Tonya says

    I feel like I finally met the “real” Anne. The one who is now exposing her authentic self to my “grown-up” self. Showing me the reality of her life, desperation, abuse, abandonment, and pain. Of course all of that would have been there in her story all along…but in the happy go lucky stories, tv shows and movies of my youth, we weren’t allowed to see that side! We were sold the story of a precocious, dramatic orphan who found a family, love, education and happily ever after. I think we are about to see just how short they sold this beloved character to us! In just this first episode, I have glimpsed her strength and tenacity. The complexity of this character is something that I’ve never thought of, or been shown.
    It is going to be a JOY uncovering these characters in this new light. This girl, trying to find acceptance and love, friendship and confidence, difficult relationships, managing school and work and taking care of aging parents…..all while processing and healing from pain and anxiety and feeling of hopelessness and self-loathing.Hmmmm…this new representation of Anne sure sounds a lot like my friends and I when we are sitting around at Starbucks.

    It’s very nice to meet you, Anne!

    • Lorilee says

      Wow, just wow: “It’s very nice to meet you, Anne!” Yes, that’s what this is. A true meeting of a character we’ve known for years but only on a surface level!

  2. Nathalie says

    HI!! I was so very exited to watch this new adaptation but a little worried I must admit…I did not like last year’s movie at all…But I LOVED this tv premiere of Anne!!! It went by so fast!! And then I was wondering about the French boy? He is on the credit with Gilbert and Diana. So for sure he will be important!! As I’m French, of course it makes me curious. My kids love him and think he is great looking. I would love to know your feeling on this:)

    • Nathalie says

      Hi Lorilee! I’m from Quebec. Can’t wait to see new characters or old ones to take a more important part in this serie. I know most dont agree with me but I find it very creative.

  3. says

    What a great review! Encouraging to me, too, as I work on finishing my current WIP, which features a very broken young woman, too. I gotta see this miniseries now for sure!

    • Lorilee says

      How wonderful that Anne of Green Gables can and does and will continue to influence modern works of fiction! I would read anything by you, girl!

  4. Amy says

    The thing I have always loved about Anne is that her tragic life did not define her. She made choices about who she was going to be. Her optimism didn’t remove the sorrow she had experienced but it instead refined her and helped her to see the good in life instead of reflecting only on her sorrows. I always felt that the reason L.M Montgomery didn’t delve deep into those things that Anne experienced was not because they were unimportant to her story but because Anne’s gifts of spirit and optimism were a result on consciously choosing to not be destroyed by she had gone through. I have nothing against this new telling necessarily but that’s because in my mind it’s not really about Anne. And while I love Anne the child and young woman I love grownup Anne the most. I love her outlook and intense love for her children. Everything she didn’t get in the way of love and needs up until age 11 she pours onto her children. And to me, THAT is where you see the real result of her tragic beginnings- not pain or despair but an increased capacity to love.

    • Lorilee says

      Interesting comments, Amy. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint. I am wondering, might there be room for both pain/despair AND increased capacity to love? Just a question…but again, I so appreciate your take!

    • Nessa says

      Beautifully put. I agree with you, I feel like the books focused on the positive side of Anne. It was meant to be a children’s book that focused on Anne’s purity, innocence, and imagination, despite not being treated well in her childhood. She didn’t let it break her, and in return brought that light to Green Gables and touched everyone’s life there. I feel like this adaptation’s Anne is a bit different, definitely darker, and Anne feels more damaged. So far, I still think 85 version probably won’t be beat, but I’m still thoroughly enjoying watching a new spin on the story!

  5. says

    Hmm…not sure how I’m going to feel about this. Do you know if they will be adapting the other books in the series?

    • Nessa says

      The first 8 episodes will be just on the first book, the school age. But I read that they plan for these series to go on for 5 years, so in that case they would adapt the other books as well I’m sure.

      • Lorilee says

        Oh wow–I didn’t know that. Here’s hoping they bring to light some of my favorite characters from books 2-8!

  6. Nessa says

    I was ecstatic for this series, the moment I found out about the Anne search. There’s something so true about this story, that grabs all of us by that inner soft spot. After reading up on the team making these series, I had no doubt it would be good, one way or another! The first episode made me cry, I watched it 3x and got teary eyed each time! So good! 1985 version was, of course, incredible, and Megan Follows was the it girl for Anne. But I love the cast in this new version so far as well!

    The only thing I have to say though, I had mixed feelings about episode 2. The beginning of it, when Mathew was searching for Anne, almost made me feel like I’m watching a different story. And the spunky, at times even mean Anne as she was to Mathew at the train station, and to the French help boy, doesn’t seem like LMM’s Anne. I was also sad with what they did to the picnic scene. I get where they’re coming from, that they want to show Anne’s assimilation to gables wasn’t all flowers, but that was one of the best scenes in the story! It was meant to be more positive, where she integrates into her new society and meets Gilbert. This new Anne series completely cuts out the Gilbert part, and turns the picnic scene into a judgmental, dark and negative scene for Anne yet again. I wasn’t feeling that episode personally, and was disappointed they omitted Gilbert like that, I was really looking forward to that scene. There’s a chance they might still include something similar to it in the next episode? I don’t know, but it looks like she goes to school in the next one. I guess we’ll see.

    But overall this series is definitely well filmed and acted! It’s worth for everyone to see!

    • Lorilee says

      Nessa, I feel you! I just posted my blog about Episode 2. I also didn’t like that they omitted the picnic scene. I am pretty sure, though, that in the book, the picnic scene did not have Gilbert, either. Not that this episode had much of anything to do with the book…

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