Books vs Films: Anne with an E


By Ewa Giera

Warning: This article contains spoilers

Every now and again, Netflix produces a series adapted from well-known classics. A Series of Unfortunate Events, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black. All of them are books which have recently been adapted for the small screen. This time, Netflix has released a new adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s internationally acclaimed book, Anne of Green Gables. A lot of people who have grown up with the books – including myself – have had some doubts about the new release after Netflix confirmed that the upcoming version was to be ‘gritty’.

The people who were charmed by the books won’t find a lot of this charm in the show.

The first episode gave off a good impression – it followed the dialogue of the book quite closely, and some of the additions implemented don’t seem overly intrusive. The casting of Anne, Marilla and Mrs Lynde really lived up to my expectations of the source material. R.H. Thomson’s performance as Matthew Cuthbert was slightly disappointing, and although he did manage to play the overly shy character with some conviction, some charm was definitely lost.

However, the further we watch the show, the more problems seem to arise. Possibly due to the short number of episodes (or Netflix’s obsession with adding more seasons and dividing storylines), Anne with an E does not get anywhere close to the end of the book storyline at the end of the season. This came with substantial plot changes, and the mischaracterisation of a lot of characters which we have loved for years. 

For example, I initially welcomed the addition of Anne’s PTSD following her stay at Mrs Hammond’s, where she took care of the children. Netflix goes deep into portraying Anne’s abuse, which at first seemed to me like an interesting take on Anne’s origin story – I never thought about the effect of the treatment by Mrs Thomas and Mrs Hammond and the change did make sense. However, this addition came at the cost of another. Netflix’s attempt at making Anne of Green Gables – a book full of charm and humour – into an overly dramatic piece quite lacking in the charm department.

Perhaps this illuminates the biggest issue I have with the show, Netflix’s tendency to overdramatise elements of the plot. Anne’s running away after she was accused of stealing Marilla’s brooch really tries to emphasise the fact that she is not living a happy life in her new home. It strikes me as strange to have Anne escape from Green Gables in order to live a life on the road, since she’s an orphan who has never dreamed of anything more than being part of a family. It seems obvious that she would put more effort into trying to sort out the problem. This issue also comes up when Anne starts going to school – she is immediately alienated by all the girls where in the book she was actually quite popular. Even her best friend, Diana, seems embarrassed to be friends with her, despite book Diana never disappointing her.

Another issue is the forced message that Netflix is trying to push through with the show – feminine strength. It is understandable why Anne would feel dejected by the fact that she was to be sent back because she was not a boy, and the echoes of that throughout the first couple of episodes are fair. However, the more Anne states that she can do anything that a boy can and how independent she is, the more out-of-the-blue her treatment by the other girls at school is. All the girls immediately turn away from her, even Diana. The only person who seems to cut her a break throughout this string of misfortunes is Gilbert, but he was never meant for that purpose in the book – he was a troublemaker and didn’t mature all the way until they both grew up. It seems that the book has a lot more feminine strength and community than the show attempts to force through. I’m also still giggling at the fact that Marilla, a strong-and-stable member of the Conservative party was made into a feminist, whilst Rachel Lynde criticised women in leadership despite being a raging liberal.

This tendency to stress that Anne is having an awful time at the Green Gables becomes the reason why Anne with an E is just unenjoyable. The point of the original source material was never to put Anne through genuinely horrible experiences. Instead, it aimed to make the smallest, most domestic moments the height of the emotion, echoing the genuine experiences of a child. This show lacks the humour, the charm and the likability of the book and it will have a hard time measuring up to it.

Image from The Tracking Board

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