Coming to Terms: A Conflicted Opinion of Anne with an E
Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Some 35 years after Sullivan Entertainment released Anne of Green Gables (seemingly everyone’s favorite adaption), CBS and Netflix released the series Anne with an E, setting the world of entertainment aflame.
As an avid reader and re-reader of the Anne series and a passionate loyalist to the original books, my standards were always high for adaptations of L.M. Montgomery’s writings. I went into the AWAE series hoping desperately that I wouldn’t be disappointed, just feeling grateful that yet another Anne adaption was out there for me to consume.
My Initial Reaction
As I began the first episode, everything felt right. The opening was beautiful, the setting was immersive, and Amybeth McNulty’s performance as Anne was wonderful. I perked up as I heard direct quotes from the book and saw the raw beauty of Green Gables on screen. And then - the flashbacks, the crying, and the trauma began.
They didn’t bother me too much at first; by the end of the first episode, I was more satisfied than not. But the troubling darkness only increased as I watched episode two, and my hopes shattered quicker than Matthew galloped away after miserable Anne. The plot in this episode went off the rails, and the dramatic search for Anne along with her bleak personal journey was painful to watch.
It became very clear to me that the producers of Anne with an E were not only disregarding the original plot of the books by the second episode, but they also seemed intent on reworking the entire tone of the story and characters. I realize now that a more realistic, modernized take on the story wasn’t an unreasonable direction for the series when you take into consideration the larger audience. However, as someone who has been deeply impacted by the books, it just wasn’t for me.
I started episode three but only got ten minutes in before I gave up. From what I had seen, the show was forlorn, stressful, and, in many cases, uncomfortable. Now, don’t get me wrong. Normally I ate up this sort of television (Little House on the Prairie, anyone?), but this was my precious Anne we were talking about, and I wasn’t having it. I didn’t watch any more of the show, and I wouldn’t for a very long time.
Shortly after I left this series behind, it began to come up in conversation - a lot. Being the tall, freckled, redheaded 15-year-old that I was, I had a lot of people coming up to me, saying how I reminded them so much of “Anne with an E” and asking if I’d watched the series. These remarks started to bother me the more I heard them, mainly because it seemed like this new show was their first exposure to Anne of Green Gables.
My disappointment in the first few episodes, combined with my longtime love for the books, made me wince every time someone brought it up. I wished these fans could have recognized the beauty of Anne’s story before the AWAE series came out with all of its manufactured drama and dark themes.
I lived with this bitterness for three years without ever revisiting the show. I watched as two more seasons were released, and I did my best to ignore them. However, it had been such a long time since Anne with an E first came into my life that the sting of my frustrations had worn off a great deal. It had become much easier to talk about the show with others without any ranting on my part.
Rethinking My Perspective
I had grown bored of my angry boycotting and tired from years of stubbornness, and the fact was, I was curious. I wanted to at least see how they had ended the last season. I knew at this point that the showrunners had trailed very far from the books, so my expectations were very low. Nevertheless, one night I opened up Netflix, clicked on season three, scrolled to the bottom, and pushed play.
Now, before you lose yourself in horror at my foolish decision to start with the very last episode — I know. I know that was stupid. But you have to remember that I had no love or respect for the series at the time, and it was a strange enough feeling to be watching an episode at all. So I was thrown into a fast-paced finale episode full of characters I had never met before and plot lines I wasn’t familiar with. And yet, despite all of this, it was vastly entertaining.
I think that word - entertaining - is crucial to my overall opinion of the show. After seeing the final episode, I watched bits and pieces of episodes that came before it. I had stuck my toes into the deep end of the pool and, after a couple of weeks, I was up to my shoulders. The simplest way of describing that experience, which led to my change of heart, was that I was watching television. And it was gripping, heartfelt, and enjoyable.
It wasn’t that I no longer cared about the accuracy and loyalty to the books; on the contrary, I was and still am somewhat salty about that aspect. But I wasn’t expecting accuracy anymore. I wasn’t looking for recreated scenes or even the same plot lines, because by that point I had come to terms with the fact that Anne with an E just wasn’t that kind of show.
Accepting that truth was what freed me from my bonds of disappointment. It allowed me to enjoy the series more objectively as I watched just about every episode there was. Of course, sometimes I contemplate what could have been if they only tried to be true to the books, but it just doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. What I have instead is an appreciation for a show that may not be Anne’s story but shines in its own way.
What I've Come to Appreciate About Anne with an E
Here are some things that I have grown to love about Anne with an E - I love the visuals; the dark, eerie woods, the earthy costumes, the sun beating down on landscapes of PEI. I love the scenes where Anne is alone in nature and she is just completely herself and getting a thrill out of every warm breeze, every tree branch, every fluttering moth. Those scenes were very reminiscent of the original story visually speaking.
I like that they chose to give Gilbert a more complicated story arch and realistic struggles as he grew up and found his place in the world. It made him a very dynamic and lovable character on his own, rather than just in connection with Anne. I also found Diana’s relationship with her parents very compelling; she was given more in-depth problems to overcome and larger goals to achieve.
Another thing I loved was the way they wrote Miss Stacy. She reflected the more refined aspects of Anne’s personality, and I could really see from the start that they were kindred spirits. I enjoyed watching her fun peculiarities and interests as well as her struggle to win the approval of the townsfolk. It reminds me of a similar journey Anne had to go on in Anne of Windy Poplars. In the novel, when Anne moved to Summerside, she had to overcome the prejudice of the Pringle family and break through their social walls. I like to think that the producers had this plotline in mind when they wrote the episodes about Miss Stacy's controversy.
Miss Stacy was a great role model for Anne and helped her to find a more balanced and thoughtful way of treating others and seeing the world, which was a nice call back to the first book. Anne was often heedless, spiteful, and excessively wordy at times. But when Miss Stacy became a friend and mentor, Anne's childish tendencies developed into much more valuable qualities that would help her later in life.
Almost every character was given serious struggles they had to deal with in the show, which was somewhat different from the earlier books like Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea. But I think that sort of drama is what we expect from modern television; it adds tension and keeps people interested.
Overall, I think the third season was the best one. There were much fewer flashbacks, the plot lines were more positive, and the general tone was brighter. Despite there being very few inclusions of original plot lines and scenes, season three came the closest to feeling like one of the books. It also happened to be the most enjoyable to watch. Anne’s search for her origin story and birth parents was heartfelt and fitting; the camaraderie between the Avonlea classmates felt just right; and Anne and Gilbert's revelations and final search for each other, though significantly different from the original text, were very satisfying.
After this complicated journey I’ve gone on, I can finally say that yes, I do enjoy watching Anne with an E. It may have made me furious at one point in time, but I now appreciate its unique beauty and wonderful characters.
Like Anne, I have learned that few problems are solved by breaking a slate over someone’s head. In many cases, a new perspective is all that’s needed.
Interested in watching Anne with an E? Watch the series trailer below to learn more about it!