(Photo belongs to Netflix)
My favourite part of the “Anne with an E” series is that Anne is not a hero. She is a deeply flawed protagonist, and the series’ main focus is not about her “figuring things out” in her life. Instead, it chronicles in a very earnest way, the misadventures of a young woman whose way of looking at the world is far more progressive than what her small-town community can accept.
“Anne with an E” is based on Lucy Maud Montgomery's novel Anne of Green Gables and its sequels. The books tell the story of an orphan girl who finds a home at a farm, Green Gables in the fictional town of Avonlea located at Prince Edward Island in Canada. She is adopted by the Cuthbert siblings-Marilla and Matthew, both of whom are middle-aged and never married. Anne is an outsider from the get-go, with her “carrot” hair and outspokenness, making her a convenient target of both her peers’ and the elders’ chagrin in 1876 Canada.
The 2017 Netflix adaptation “Anne with an E” takes some liberties with the original plot—but only to highlight issues of gender, race and social class, all of which were what made the original novel(s) so popular and forward-thinking in the first place.
The second season of “Anne with an E” was released this year, and frankly I enjoyed it much more than the first. Season one was about Anne’s arrival—not just at Avonlea but also about her first taste of selfhood as her identity, for the first time, was more than just “anonymous orphan”. Much of the season detailed her position as an outsider and introduced her relationships with Marilla and Matthew as well as her friends at school.
Season 2 almost seems relieved to have gotten the introductions out of the way, and takes the time to delve into the notion of the “Taboo”, when it comes to the issues of gender roles, sexuality, race and social class.
Sebastian is a character who Gilbert Blythe (who in the novels is Anne’s long-time intellectual competitor at school, and whom she will eventually marry) meets during a stint shoveling coal on a ship, and eventually brings home with him to live in Avonlea. Sebastian is a Carribean native, whose mother was a former-slave. Sebastian on the other hand embraces his identity as a free man who can make whatever he wants of his life. Sebastian’s very presence at Avonlea is disconcerting to the Islanders, many of whom have never seen a person of colour before. Sebastian is constantly mistaken for the help, and unapologetically corrects those who do.
Prissy Andrews, one of Anne’s schoolmates escapes a premature marriage to a closeted gay man, by literally running out of the alter into the freezing Canadian winter. The scene ends with Prissy and her girlfriends frolicking in the snow—because Prissy is free. She is free to be a child again, and to pursue her education and everyone (except for her former beau) celebrates.
Aunt Josephine is another character that indicates how life in Avonlea—and in the world is changing. She is Diana Barry’s (Anne’s best friend) aunt, who is incredibly wealthy and never married. It is only after the death of her lover Gertrude, that Diana and Anne both learn that Aunt Josephine is gay. However, she is not the only character who comes out on the show. Anne’s schoolmate Cole, a talented artist eventually confesses his attraction to men, to Anne.
The coming out story is something we now see more commonly on television than ever before. But the setting and time of the series makes the bravery and conviction of the characters deeply repectable—and unusual. Anne here is the critical catalyst—she represents the future and provides the safety and security for the other characters to begin to acknowledge their true selves. But as I said, Anne is not a hero, and the issues that the show draws attention to are not resolved in any way.
For me, the series’ exploration of these issues was poignant because it seemed a bit like for how far we have come as a society, the pain and struggle of traditionally-marginalised groups seems very much unchanged. I wonder if “Anne with an E” is a call-to-action to be conscious of the issuesthat continue to trouble our world, as much as it is a reminder of of vulnerability—but also strength as people.
The series is also breath-taking in terms of cinematography. It was filmed in Ontario, Canada and showcases some beautiful winter scenery. However, the films also play with colour and lighting to accentuate the highs and lows of Anne’s moods.
Amybeth McNulty herself, who plays Anne, is in my opinion a very underrated child actress. Her emotional execution is compelling, especially considering Anne is such a complicated character, who feels very deeply.
If you are a purist, you may not enjoy “Anne with an E” with all the divergences and liberties it takes from Montgomery's original novel(s). However, if you give her a chance, the 2018 portrayal of Anne will frustrate you at first, but ultimately surprise and delight you.