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!

      • Ian Anthony says

        I guess I don’t belong here. But nevertheless here I am. I already contributed a fairly substantial comment beneath your “10 Reasons” entry. But I’d only like to add that I cannot stop thinking about this idea that somehow we need to know more, that somehow this series is filling in what I might have been missing, that somehow, the original “experience” of the characters in the novel was only a “surface” one. I just do not see it that way at all. As an artist, I can say (& I’m certain people such as yourself, who use words for their art, can corroborate) that what is left out, is at least as important as what’s put in. Sometimes, it is more! Think of a nocturne.

        The beauty of any creative endeavour is there in its spaces, and its negative spaces. Space, and negative space. Sound. And silence.

        And with that word, silence…

  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…

  7. Ian Anthony says

    Hi. I will have to start by explaining that I am one of a rare species. I am a guy who read and liked Anne of Green Gables. So before I go into reviewing the new series, a bit of background.

    I read the book when I was in grade 9, for a project connecting Canadian geography and literature. So obviously there was a lot of choice. I could have done a report about any number of literary works from WO Mitchell & Saskatchewan to Margaret Laurence & Manitoba, to Quebec, to Ernest Buckler & Nova Scotia. To name a tiny few. But I had always been fascinated by PEI. Our potatoes were from there, Stompin Tom Connors, whom my father really liked, was from there. It was an island in the sea. Etc. So, not without some trepidation, I chose to read Anne of Green Gables. I can still remember looking up all the different trees and ferns, blossoms & flowers that are mentioned in the book. What the real names of the places were, and all about the iron red soil, the roads and abandoned railways. And so on.

    I hid the fact that I read it, not only at the time (though once I was discovered reading it by some bullies who poured pop all over me, AND the book, and locked me in an empty classroom for a time) but for years after.

    But enough of that. So here’s the thing. I did not expect to like the book, just thought it would be an easy read and easy to write about. I was wrong. I didn’t like the book, I loved it! And very much. I could relate to so much of it. It did not matter to me one bit that the protagonist was a girl. What mattered was that it was set in a wondrous place, that it was a story and a place & people as fascinating to me as those in The Once & Future King or The Flame Trees of Thika. And moreover.. There was Anne…

    Anne was a girl, but other than that, she was so, so much like me. She was an outsider who just wanted to belong. And she, like me, did not like being small and thin. She, like me, hated her red hair and freckles. And like me she related most to the natural world around her, and to her own vivid imagination. She wanted that one true friend. Wanted to be loved. She talked to the trees, spoke to a potted plant, gave her own names to everything, & lived in a world of imagination.. That was me. Had always been me.

    That book meant a lot to me. It just was so true that even if I couldn’t tell anyone, it didn’t matter; it belonged in my inner world. It was me before I ever read it.

    And though I was busy with other things, I took note when the classic film with Megan Follows came out a couple of years later. It seemed to me that it exactly matched the beauty and Romanticism of the novel. The optimistic spirit.

    And so we come to the new series. I’ve watched all 8 episodes and I must say it’s good.

    But that’s just it. It’s good yes but, perhaps because of what it’s trying to be (a different, grittier, darker & more realistic take on the story) it just does not have that same magic. It is indeed, more realistic, more dark, etc. That is sure & certain. But adding realism and darkness to it, is to misunderstand what has made the book so beloved for over a century. As my teacher would have said, “That’s just not what it’s about.” Montgomery didn’t shy away from the darkness, but she didn’t throw us into it, either. She surely lived a hard life. And she is certainly in Anne, as much as she is Anne’s creator. But that so-called “realism & darkness” which was as much as anything simply a part of life at that time in history, for all but the richest people, is exactly what Montgomery eschewed. Or rather, in “Anne” she left it for us, to divine, to understand as a given. Yet that “given” is, sadly, what the new series adds truckloads full of, to the story.

    But. But… Well. No. Just no. I say again. That is not what “Anne” is about. It’s not that darkness & grimness is ignored in the novel. It’s just that it’s not the point, it’s there in the background. It’s left to our imagination. And there’s a reason for that! Here’s how Margaret Atwood put it, when writing about “Anne of Green Gables” in the centenary year of 2008:

    “The presiding genius of ‘Anne’ is not the gritty grey Angel of Realism, but the rainbow-​coloured, dove-winged Godlet of the Heart’s Desire.”

    The heart and its desire. As you may know, Mark Twain wrote to Montgomery, telling her that her story was “The sweetest creation of childlife yet written.”
    Sweetness. Light. Romantic with a capital R. Optimistic. Beautiful with a capital B. But even those words, as Anne might say, don’t do it justice. But this is exactly why it’s needed, in this age of change and anxiety, more than ever. We needed another “gritty, realistic, edgy” retelling like (as my mother would say) we need another hole in our heads.

    I don’t. I would have loved to see a series that could have found a “contemporary” or “relevant” way, to speak full-on, to optimism, and hope, for a change. Especially because that’s what the story is all about. And it doesn’t need grit and darkness added to it. Therein lies the path not only to stress, but future irrelevancy.

    So. But I digress. Back to the new series. Yes. It’s ok. It’s good. The new actors are all good, particularly the girl who plays Anne who is remarkable and really looks the part, admittedly somewhat more so than Megan follows even did. Also RH Thomson is great, and all the rest of the cast, do a good job of the characters. The costumes and script (with a few exceptions), etc, are all good. And yet…

    And yet, as I watched the most recent episode, it came to me. I suddenly really noticed the drained out, tonal colours of this new series. And that was kind of like a signal about the whole treatment. Something which is seemingly almost a requirement now, is for historical stories to have this kind of almost uncoloured look. That is when it struck me what I was missing. How I was missing the pastel richness from the classic Sullivan film, a look that matched Montgomery’s own prose. Furthermore, inrealised it’s also in the way that we now have full character backgrounds filled in, and a lot added on, instead of leaving such to the colourful scope of our own imaginations. All this and more reminded me about WHY, though I wanted to, I just couldn’t love this take on one of my favourite stories ever. I’m a sensitive human being. I want the capital R Romanticism. The heart’s desire.
    And as for realism or the truth. I can divine the truth. I don’t have to have my heart and mind and eyes shoved into it. That’s not what Anne is about. Not to me.

    Well. If you read this far. Thanks for that. Just wanted to throw my penny into the well, and imagine where it lands. I will conclude with this excerpt from the novel. I think it’s all there.

    ““Were those women—Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Hammond—good to you?” asked Marilla, looking at Anne out of the corner of her eye.
    “O-o-o-h,” faltered Anne. Her sensitive little face suddenly flushed scarlet and embarrassment sat on her brow. “Oh, they meant to be—I know they meant to be just as good and kind as possible. And when people mean to be good to you, you don’t mind very much when they’re not quite—always. They had a good deal to worry them, you know. It’s a very trying to have a drunken husband, you see; and it must be very trying to have twins three times in succession, don’t you think? But I feel sure they meant to be good to me.”
    Marilla asked no more questions. Anne gave herself up to a silent rapture over the shore road and Marilla guided the sorrel abstractedly while she pondered deeply. Pity was suddenly stirring in her heart for the child. What a starved, unloved life she had had—a life of drudgery and poverty and neglect; for Marilla was shrewd enough to read between the lines of Anne’s history and divine the truth.”

    • Nessa says

      Wow, this by far, is the best comment I’ve read about these series! I agree with everything you said! First of all, thanks for sharing your history, you must be a good person. Anyone who loves Anne, immediately evokes trust in me :)

      These new series definitely took a different spin on the story. While it’s different than the book, I’m still happy with the way they’ve turned out though. There’s been many remakes of Anne, ones that no one really heard of or cared about. One made even recently that I believe is still airing. You don’t really see anyone talking about it though, because it doesn’t evoke any emotions. This new Anne, Moira’s Anne, did grab attention of many. It’s beautifully filmed, acted and directed. I quite enjoyed seeing the extra scenes that explore characters deeper. I do feel like Moira changed up the story a bit too much in some places, in ways that didn’t really add to the story, and took away from us getting to know more of Anne. The last cliffhanger made little sense to me in general, it’s like a bad western. Who cares about these crooks whom Jerry will probably crack and save green grables. I don’t care enough about the crooks for that to be a cliffhanger.

      But anyway, that being said, I agree with you that the ’85 version stayed more true to the book. But I guess times are changing, so does the demand of new generations. I hear a lot of young folks saying that the new Anne made them relate to her, and out of curiosity they watched the 85 version and don’t see the appeal. Not many kids these days read Anne of Green Gables, so if a new version can attract their attention to the classic, then I’m all for it!

      P.S. I hope Moira seems your comment somehow, you give great suggestions!

      • Ian Anthony says

        Hi Nessa
        Thar’s a lovely name. Sort of swamped today, but it’s lunchtime and I have a minute. Wanted to see if anything I’d written (please excuse the typos & errors) had resonated for anyone. So thank you for that.

        It’s interesting what you say about people “not seeing the appeal” of the old one. I’ve spoken to only a couple of people but I’ve had the opposite experience. It may be simply what they’ve seen first. In other words, let kids see the old one first, and they will like it. And when shown the new one, they might not. Kids are impressionable that way. They’re really no different than we adults are. They tend to gravitate to original experiences.

        For example: I old a friend’s wife about the discussion on the blog. This is a woman who has family in PEI. After expressing how amazed she was at my liking for “Anne” she told me that before going there last summer, she & her girls had watched the 85 version. She said they loved it!

        However, although she was initially excited to see this new version, apparently that evaporated pretty quickly. Neither she nor her girls actually like the new series very much (though she admitted some of the same things I had noted in my other comment about the acting etc). What’s more: One of the girls stopped watching it after just two episodes, saying she found it “too scary” and a couple of scenes actually really frightened the other daughter as well. Which brings me to: The “mouse in the pants” episode. Both my friend & his wife have told me how the kids had been pestering them both for days, with questions about “daddy’s mouse.”

        Nuff said. I have to run. Thanks for replying.

        Ian

    • Lorilee says

      Ian, I want to warmly welcome you to this community! We are delighted to learn from you and your splendid insights. I like everything about this comment, from the remark about “WO Mitchell & Saskatchewan to Margaret Laurence & Manitoba,” (I read both those books in English class, growing up in Winnipeg!), to your invocation of Margaret Atwood of all people: “The presiding genius of ‘Anne’ is not the gritty grey Angel of Realism, but the rainbow-​coloured, dove-winged Godlet of the Heart’s Desire.” And I cannot thank you enough for this perfect quote from the book we both love. Please tell me you’ll stick around? We NEED your penny in this well!

  8. Ian Anthony says

    Hi Lorilee

    Thank you for the warm welcome. It’s a very fine thing to feel wanted. So yes, I will be around. It’s really quite hard to believe just how this has worked out. It’s like reaching that point in a story where you realise how much you like it, and don’t want it to end. I think that’s the secret in so much great literature. And so it is with Anne. Like Marilla, we are somewhat in disbelief, and we wish that that eternal moment, that first place where we realised the dream & the beauty, would somehow stay. The only choice of course, then, is to go back and start all over again. Like leaves on a tree, that follow the cycle of seasons.

    Anne is like a figure of Spring, personified.
    And well… We don’t need Spring to come fancier, grittier, more relevant, every year, do we? Spring doesn’t need any “updating” for the 21st century, does it? Or “fleshing out” of characters, et cetera? Spring, and Anne, remind us: We love what we love because it remains that joy, that, as Blake said, we kiss as it flies. And thus we live in eternity’s sunrise.

    PS. Am I allowed to post links? If so I could post a link to the Margaret Atwood piece I quoted. As well as some other interesting things I’ve found.

    • Lorilee says

      Ian, are you a writer? You write so beautifully! Yes, please do share a link if it pertains to “Anne.” Thanks!

  9. Ian Anthony says

    Oh gosh haha what a compliment. No I am not a writer, though my father was. It may seem like I can write but I assure you, I’m actually not very good at it. I’ve tried. Fortunately there are other creative things at which I am not half bad.

    Here is a link to the fantastic little essay, mentioned above, that Margaret Atwood wrote for the Guardian 9 years ago now, on the centenary of the first publication of Anne of Green Gables. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/mar/29/fiction.margaretatwood

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