Photograph: Front Cover of Angus and Robertson publication, Australia, 1979.
After much encouragement from friends and family members who know me well, I checked out Anne with an ‘e’, a new Netflix adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s timeless classic, Anne of Green Gables. Moira Walley-Beckett’s interpretation is certainly re-imagined, especially compared with Sullivan’s acclaimed television mini-series from the mid-eighties (can it be that long ago?).
For so many it has become difficult to think of Anne, without conjuring up an image of Megan Follows. Despite this, Amybeth McNulty had me within minutes, and may actually be a ‘truer’ version of Anne. Anne with an ‘e’ reveals a deeper level of realism and grittiness, and despite some of the criticism that this is a ‘betrayal’ of Montgomery’s novel and that the original story is lost, I cannot help but think Lucy Maud Montgomery would approve. Wholeheartedly.
Firstly, if nothing else, Lucy Maud Montgomery was a story-teller, who relished the narrative of a female heroine overcoming adversity, poor beginnings and social rejection through self-belief. And in that faith in self, maturing and growing to become the most fulsome, authentic and joyous version of herself. Anne with an ‘e’ is certainly following through accurately to that part of the original narrative. We know that Lucy Maud Montgomery in her own childhood and early career, faced and overcame circumstances and rejections, and with an unrelenting trust in herself, she wrote, “I knew I would arrive someday”. Anne with an ‘e’ shows arrival and setback, and arrival again, what could be more true of real life? The credible embellishments to the familiar and sweet plot lines make sense – teenage moodiness, small town gossip and the hardships of the era that the story is set in. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s own personal experiences were not without suffering and bites of dark reality as she traversed the phases of her own adult life. I am sure she’d enjoy this updated, courageous Anne searching for her own identity as she emerges from a history of neglect, mistreatment and being unloved. The exploration of Marilla’s emotional development and capacity for love and compassion, as well as an examination of her own life’s circumstances as she ponders through what she wants for her new charge, is entirely new. It is lovely and compelling and, in my view, along with the poignant flourishes on Marilla’s, Matthew’s and Miss Barry’s personal histories, enriches the Production.
Without doubt, as some other Netflix series have also been, Anne with an ‘e’ is visually stunning. And matches well with what we know about Lucy Maud Montgomery’s love of Prince Edward Island’s landscape and her eloquent writing to describe that beauty. There are scenes I have gone back to watch purely for their visual appeal. One of my favourites is when Anne and Diana are parting ways on their walk home from school on Anne’s first day of school in Avonlea. They stop at a fork in the way at a small grove of slim, tall trees – bereft of most of their leaves that are now yellowed and forming two crisp pathways in opposite directions. As Diana takes the path to the left and Anne the path to the right, I am struck by the beauty of the shot and the feeling that this is reminiscent of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken and how very different a start to life Anne and Diana have had from one another, and that their roads ahead will be different because of this.
I was eight years’ old when I first read Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea. An avid reader, I quickly fell in love with Anne and it wasn’t long before I had acquired and read the whole series, including the 1974 publication of short stories, The Road to Yesterday. And for those of you who know, and are wondering, yes, I also fell in love with Emily. (And Pat and The Story Girl, and soaked up every other book and story of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s that I could get my hands on!)
One of my life’s greatest pleasures is to read. Is it to escape? Perhaps, but I think it is more a delight in being able to connect to ourselves and each other in the poignant knowing of our shared human experience. This connection through fiction is even more tender as I not only relate to the experience of the characters in a novel, but also to the writer who invented them. Anne herself in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel said, “I love a book that makes me cry.”
Revisiting a story you know well and have loved well brings new experiences and new revelations every time. The story may not have changed, but often, you have. The connection you had with the characters, the place and the meaning in the story are still there, as familiar and comforting as ever, and at the same time, your own growth and differing perspectives allow you to find connections all over again through the new lens of your older, more experienced and perhaps wiser self.
Through my obsessive enjoyment of her stories as a child, and in meeting and knowing her characters, did I become like them? Full of extravagant and exuberant words, and excruciating emotion, Anne and Emily showed me how to feel the very simple and ordinary joys of life’s experiences and nature’s beauty. I could blame Lucy Maud Montgomery for setting me up for a lifetime of soppy nostalgia and sentimentality, or I could thank my Mother, for buying me those books in the first place, knowing she was allowing me to tap into those very aspects of my essential self.
There is much that is new and special about Anne with an ‘e’ – but Anne, the Anne that I first came to know when I was just a young child, remains the essential Anne. The dramatic, romantic, independent, fiery tempered, hopeful, clever and kind Anne that Lucy Maud Montgomery so cleverly conjured out of her marvelous words over a hundred years ago. Bravo Amybeth McNulty, and many accolades to you, Moira Walley-Beckett. I cannot wait for more.