When I first heard that Anne of Green Gables was getting a remake, I thought to myself, “No way could they ever top the 1985 mini series, or the book.”
And to be honest, I forgot that the whole remake was even happening until I opened Netflix yesterday and there it was — a photo of a freckly red-headed, wide-eyed girl — in the background of the clever title, “Anne with an E”. I was curious — how would it be different or the same as the mini-series, which I watched time and time again as a teenager? Could it even ever compare to the books, which I read with such a passion as a kid? So — to figure it out — I downloaded the first episode and began watching it while I was at the gym.
The first episode (of seven for the first season) is actually very very similar to both the mini series and the book. They all have to set up Anne in some way, and that’s a tough thing to do. When Anne comes from the orphanage she’s excited, scared, chatty, dreamy, imaginative, temperamental, emotional, unsure, and exhausted. It’s a lot to fit into one character, and the first thing that struck me about this series was the actress that plays Anne — Amybeth McNulty. I don’t want to say she’s better than Megan Follows — but she’s different, and in a good way. It’s so clear to me that this girl studied the books and says her lines with such precision and enthusiasm. Anne is not an easy character to play. And somehow she does it just right. She runs through her sentences to the point where she needs to take gasping breaths — and widens her eyes at the beauty that surrounds her in Matthew’s buggy. You can truly feel what Anne’s feeling due to McNulty’s talent.
And it’s not just McNulty either — the entire cast seems to just get it right. Matthew Cuthbert tugs at my heart strings throughout the series. He doesn’t say much, but he doesn’t need to. The camera work only just enhances how he patiently waits for Marilla to stop scolding him or Anne to give Anne a wink or a nod — and quietly gives Anne advice when she’s in the depths of despair.
Besides the great acting, the cinematography plays a big role in the series. I don’t watch a lot of shows or movies that focus on Canada — and the way Montgomery talks about Prince Edward Island in the books — someone has to do that island some justice. There are many wide shots of the farm and the town in all seasons — spring, summer, fall, and winter. It makes me want to take a trip up there to see in person what Anne exuberantly describes as the loveliest place. And as a photographer who has dabbled in film, boy do they know how to capture the magic hour. There’s one scene in particular where Anne and Diana are swearing to be bosom friends for the rest of their lives, and the camera swirls around the two girls at the golden hour as they touch foreheads together and take their friendship vows. I can’t say that it didn’t bring tears to my eyes.
Some purists may not like the fact that this series strays from the plot of the book. However, I actually really really enjoy that it does. Besides the first episode, which really was almost word for word from the book, the remainder of the episodes only take certain chapters from the book — and instead, build on the back stories of the characters. They give Matthew more of a history than we ever learned from the books, and they show Anne having much more flashbacks of the abuse she endured at the orphanage and her previous family. It’s important to show back stories because it develops the characters and allows us to connect to them on a more personal level. It brings Anne out of the pages and into a springy pre-teen girl.
It’s sometimes hard to think of how generations past lived and breathed and thought, even through words on a page. But this series makes us see that 13-year-old girls are 13-year-old girls, no matter the decade or the century. Anne struggles with fitting in at school with the prettier, richer girls, and has to put up with bullying and teasing, crushes, boys, her period. I sat here thinking, “Oh, Anne, how I can relate!”
So if you read the books growing up, and if you liked the original mini series from the 80s, I really do recommend you sit down and watch the remake on Netflix. It is so charming. It is funny. It is heartwarming — and heartbreaking. It is very much like watching yourself as an awkward young girl trying to find her way in the world. You will want to cry with Anne, contemplate with Marilla, gossip with Rachel, dance with Diana, and admire with Matthew.
You’ll also want to book an Airbnb for Prince Edward Island for your next getaway — or at least somewhere in Canada. It really is gorgeous by the looks of it.
“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
Anne of Green Gables