Watch Wednesday

Watch Wednesday #10: Anne of Green Gables

I feel like adapting book series for film is possibly the gutsiest thing you can ever step out to do.  When you’re reading a book, you are managing the screenplay.  You are the director.  While there’s a certain amount of description and direction put forth by the author, for the most part it is the reader that is in control.

How can any person hope to meet the expectations of a buttload of different people, who have already created thousands of different versions of this source material in their many varying minds?  Seriously.  I want to know.

When something has been read by millions of people, people who obsessively consume it, who have already lived in their own imagination’s depiction of the book.  Really, there are a million ways for an adaptation to go wrong.  A relationship with a book–and even more a series–is special.

So, again, how do people get the guts to do it?  Well, whatever the reason–because heaven knows, just plopping a best seller onto a movie screen doesn’t mean dollar signs–I’m glad they do it.  Because, yes, sometimes it’s not what you expect.  And sometimes, that’s exactly what we like to see.

Anne of Green Gables

Anne with an E is one such adaptation that is coming from some very time-honored source material.  Anne of Green Gables, written by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was published in 1908.  Aging siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who intend to adopt a boy to help with the family farm, are mistakenly sent a girl instead–Anne Shirley.  The novel and proceeding sequels go to tell of Anne’s life as she makes her way with her new family and town.

Anne of Green Gables has gone on to sell over 50 million copies and has been translated into 36 languages, as well as adapted for multiple films, made-for-TV movies, and even Japanese anime TV series.  Anne with an E is its most recent adaptation that was picked up for release in the United States by Netflix.

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Originally titled simply Anne in its original air in Canada, Anne with an E is a darker take on the otherwise positive tale.  While titular character, Anne, is still the upbeat, non-stop-chatting, red headed little orphan girl she has always been, we do get to see a much grittier side not only her experiences in Green Gables, but also her past in the foster care system.

Anne’s experiences with the Thomas and Hammond families are previously a untouched tale.  In the books as well as previous adaptations, we don’t know much about Anne’s experiences prior to meeting the Cuthberts, other than what she relays.

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Anne with an E flashbacks to her experiences with these families, displaying experiences that were sadly typical for foster care at the time.  Orphans were literally considered to be less than animals; seriously, in 1908 there were more laws concerning animal rights than children rights.  Passed family to family, orphans were left with little to no supervision from the orphanages they came from.

Consider the fact that Marilla simply “sent word” for a child.  There’s no paperwork, no background check, just, “Hey, I need a kid,” and, “Okay, here’s a kid.”  The historical accuracy of that is stunning to learn, but it was an epic addition to Anne’s story.  Anne with an E is, in several ways, a much darker telling of red haired girl of Green Gables and I LOVED IT.

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I do understand why some people–especially die-hard fans–can be put of by Anne with an E.  It is different, plain and simple.  It takes a more one dimensional tale and rips it open.  While sometimes it feels like the director can’t trust that Anne, in fact, has always been somewhat of a feminist icon, and perhaps inserts a bit too much drama than what could even be possible, the whole package is wrapped up so beautifully in both art direction as well as casting that is was such a lovely flavor to swallow.

First off, Amybeth McNulty takes Anne to new heights.  Not only is she the Anne of big words and imagination, she is a scared little girl who has only ever wanted to belong.  She is not simply a headstrong redhead, she is someone who has to fight against her fears to become the strong character that she is.  I loved this development, I loved how she was openly vulnerable as she attempted to navigate “normal” life.

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Anne’s, at heart, a child, and that was evident in McNulty’s character portrayal. She had been through things that a kid should never have to lay witness to, to the point that she doesn’t even really know what’s normal.  This is especially evident when she’s with all these other little girls who, raised with everything you could ever want, have never been forced to go through anything like she has.  Anne is different, and it is clear that part of that stems her attempts to cope with her life pre-Green-Gables.

Can we talk about Gilbert for a second?  This guy has been a fictional heartthrob for more than a century now, Gilbert Blythe has always left me not-so-interested.  I get that his a romance lovers dream, after all he loved Anne the second he saw her.  But other than that, he has often felt without substance to me, as if he was merely written to be the-guy-she-ends-up-with.  In the books and other adaptations, I’ve always felt like Gilbert lacks a real story.  He’s basically arm candy, in some ways.

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Anne with an E changes Gilbert’s character to something more believable.  He is someone who is presented as not only a the popular guy, but kind and noble.  Rather than simply being a boastful brat, he is simply someone who has never experienced anything other than nobility.  He can see that Anne is having a hard time, and he genuinely wants to know why.  The more she fights against his advances, the more he wants to know.  But it’s shutting her off from him.

All of the changes in this new Anne feel necessary, and Gilbert’s changes–especially in his core storyline–are needed the most.  They are drastically different to the original telling, but they put him in a place to, you know, have a real backstory, but also place him and Anne in a realistically rendered friendship that will build into their eventual romance.  The chemistry between the two is BEAUTIFUL, and I’m excited for season 2 to build an entirely new realm to Gilbert.

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Don’t be deterred by the changes, however.  Anne with an E revisits most of the classic scenes we know and love, including the cherry cordial and the celebration of the dress from Matthew.  Anne with an E is a more real take on Anne’s story.  Rather than darker, Anne with an E is stronger through its use of realities.  Marilla and Anne’s relationship is richer thanks to deviation from the book, and Matthew’s generosity holds more worth thanks to additions in his backstory.

Overall, Anne with an E is not a fairytale, and that’s what makes it even better to watch.  Yes, sometimes the director takes it a step too far for commentary sake (I mean, not all men are misogynists, I promise), but overall the choices in casting and filming are too good to not let those things slide.  Anne with an E is plain gorgeous.

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If you haven’t read the books, you can read the first one for free (it’s public domain) on Wikia.  If you’re ready to jump into Anne with an E, its first season is streaming on Netflix.  Season 2 was just announced in August, and is due to release next year.  HECK YES.

Is there a book adaptation to film that you can’t handle?

One thought on “Watch Wednesday #10: Anne of Green Gables

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