Anne With an E: Right Story, Wrong Theme

Picture of Anne with an E


Netflix recently premiered a remake of one of my long-time favorites with its version of Anne of Green Gables, titled Anne with an E.

At first I was mesmerized. Some of the casting was brilliant, especially Marilla, Matthew and Diana (dimples and all).

The visual scenery is stunning and lush, the attention to detail in the costuming and sets drew me in to the world the writers had created.

Then I realized it was not the world LM Montgomery had created.

As with any adaptation of a book to film, changes are made to show visually what the written word alludes to or suggests. Or to speed up the pace to keep the attention of the audience. As long as the changes fit the original theme, they enhance the telling of the original story.

So I was fine with a few added scenes.

Then I began to wonder if some of them were necessary.

Did we really have to see the abuse Anne suffered, over and over? As if her life hadn’t been hard enough, did she have to undergo bullying at the orphanage?

It seems she did, if you are creating a remake to add as many contemporary themes as possible.

So, poor Anne is bullied, not just before she comes to Avonlea, but relentlessly after.

Then she faces prejudice from the residents of Avonlea, young and old, because she’s an orphan. Prejudices that in the books are voiced by only a handful of people, some of whom are described by others as “mean.”

It was beginning to feel like the writers of this series felt Anne needed to suffer. That her world needed to be painted in dark and gloomy colors.

Adding to the dark tone, at times Anne is portrayed as almost crazy, lapsing into her imaginary world. What in the books feels light hearted and one of the few sources of joy in Anne’s early life turns into a morbid, almost obsessive confusion of fantasy and reality.

It only gets worse. The writers felt the need to pile on the themes that dominate contemporary thought.

Marilla attends a feminist book club, and likes it. The book Marilla would have done no such thing. She’d more likely talk about the waste of time, preferring to bake her bread or bring home the cows.

Montgomery’s books are populated with strong women who work to achieve their own ends. True, there are clear roles for each gender. But the women (including Anne) found a way to express themselves within those roles. Often in the books someone comments that women are better at getting things done than men. Hardly the sentiment of women who are oppressed into silence.

Anyone who read the books knew of Anne’s role model, her teacher Miss Stacy. Or her friendship with the women she attended college with. Women’s higher education in Montgomery’s world was not out of the ordinary.

Which made the emphasis on the need for a club to foster women’s education in the series so jarring.

Then there are the sexual and other adult themes.

For example, there are discussions of marital rape. Why these need to be inserted into a program that nine-year-old girls would want to watch is beyond me.

In a complete deviation from the original story and book character, Matthew tries to commit suicide to get the insurance money. Another morally complex theme not suitable for the age group who would be likely to read the Anne books.

It seems that the creators attempted to make a dark world for Anne to inhabit. Several reviewers have commented it almost felt like a mash up with Jane Eyre and Anne. I agree. The brooding sense of impending danger felt much more like the moors of the Brontes than the fresh seaside of Avonlea.

Most laughable is the dialogue. At times the characters are speaking from someone’s poorly informed idea of how people in the 1890s actually talked. At other times, they spout such phrases as “I don’t get you” or “no worries.”

There’s no joy in Avonlea. And no joy in this remake. The creators may think they have done something artistic and edgy.

What they’ve done is taken a beloved story and retold it in a way that is not true to the original themes or the time in which the story took place. Which ruined the original story.

The addition of modern themes, interpretations of late 19th century life, and contemporary slang created a nearly unwatchable mess.

If the creators of this series wanted to tell a brooding and gritty story, they should have started with one that was brooding and edgy.

Or come up with their own story and leave a classic alone.

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