I grew up watching the Wonderworks production of “Anne of Green Gables” and its sequel. They were an important part of my childhood, bonding over them with my grandmother, and anytime I hear that there might be another version of the story in move form, I am cautious about the offering that would be presented.
I gave the PBS version (with Martin Sheen) a try, and I had hoped that it would be good, but I ended up being very disappointed; it felt too much like whoever wrote it had decided to make a shortened version of the original, making sure to add moments the fans would have remembered, but not doing it at all well.
When I saw that Netflix was offering the first season of “Anne with an E,” I was cautiously optimistic (hoping that it would be good, seeing as the series came directly from Canada). I thought I would watch at least the first few episodes of the series before deciding whether to continue watching it, or giving up on it.
Within the first episode (or so), I knew that I was going to continue watching the series, making my way through however many episodes were produced.
The basic structure of the story is the same as you would expect; Anne is an orphan who is adopted by a brother and a sister, her best friend is Diana, she is somewhat of an outcast, she is imaginative and off-beat, and she and Gilbert are in love with each other from pretty much the first time they meet each other. But there are just enough changes to the story to make it feel somewhat fresh and keep you interested and curious about what was going to happen next.
The change to the story that I think that I appreciate the most was the inclusion of LGBT characters (one of them was a new character, and the other was a reimagining of an old character). It is not stated explicitly that these characters are gay, but it is obvious that they are.
The new character was a boy in school with Anne. He is artistic and sensitive, bullied by his family and the kids in the school because of what he is. It is only Anne who befriends him at first, standing by him and making him feel as though he is important. It is implied that if she hadn’t become his friend, and if she hadn’t helped him, something bad may have happened to him (maybe because of what was done to him by others, or maybe because of the hopelessness he might have started to feel).
The other character, the one that was reimagined, was Aunt Jo. The first clue you get that she is gay, is when she talks about the “friend” that she used to live with, and how much se missed that “friend”. It is Aunt Jo that takes in the friend of Anne’s, when it becomes clear that he could no longer remain where he was, and it was because of her (along with Anne, who facilitated their introduction), that the boy remained safe.
There were a couple of changes that stood out to me, one good, and one somewhat annoying.
Instead of dying, Matthew survives the heart attack that he has at the end of the first season. I have always loved Matthew, and his gentleness, and I was relieved that he was not written off the show.
The other change that stuck in my mind concerned Diana. Originally, Diana was not allowed to join the special classes that would prepare her for the test that would get her into college, and she is also not allowed to take these classes in the show. In the original, she gets married and spends her life as a housewife, while Anne goes away to college, becomes a journalist, and has works of fiction published. But in “Anne with an E,” Diana takes none of the classes that would help her with the test. The kids that take those classes study hard and for quite a while; it is presented as though the test would have been difficult and lots of study would have been needed to pass (it wasn’t just how much studying they apparently did, it was also how nervous the kids were when the test was upon them; one of the kids nearly had a panic attack right before taking the test). But at the last minute, Diana (with the help of Aunt Jo) escapes the watchful eye of her mother, goes to the place where the test is being taken, and she takes the test as well. She had not studied at all for the test, and despite how much preparation was apparently needed, Diana passes the test, and she is accepted into collage.
While I can appreciate the fact that the writers knew that the show was ending at that point, and they wanted to wrap things up, giving the characters a happy ending (that would be satisfying for a modern audience), the fact that Diana had no problem with he test (when Anne and Gilbert, the two smartest kids in the school, had to study hard for the test) was not only unsatisfactory, it was unrealistic. I would have rather that something more realistic happen, if there had been a better set up for Diana making it in.
Even with this mild annoyance, I really enjoyed the show overall, and I am glad that I was able to give it a chance. I kind of whish that there could have been another season, just to live in that world for a little bit longer, but it may have been good that it didn’t kep going on (it didn’t have a chance to lose the goodness that it had).
The show is still available on Netflix, and if you are looking for something to binge (especially if you are a fan of Anne), you should give the show a chance.