Over the summer, I finally gained access to Netflix through a family friend, and the first show I watched was Anne With An E. I was excited to watch something based on L. M. Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables, a series I very much enjoyed when I was little. Eight years or more have passed since I read the books, and it was quite nice to reaquaint myself with the characters, whom the show does excellent justice to. As far as my memory serves me, it also stays fairly true to the events of the books on an episode to episode basis, although takes liberties with overarching plotlines. Fear not, my fellow sticklers for accurate book-to-screen adaptation, for in this instance it works in the show’s favour as it allows for deeper exploration of characters and themes.
Our first view of our heroine is her waiting at train station to be picked up by her new foster parents and taken to Avonlea. Matthew Cuthbert finds a girl slight in build (and often unkindly called scrawny by other characters) but striking for her red hair. Matthew knows he should return Anne to to the orphanage in favour of the boy he and his sister wanted, but is overwhelmed by her waxing poetic about her excitement about finding a home, so takes her with him back to Green Gables. When they arrive, Matthew’s stronger-willed sister Marilla is less impressed with Anne’s romanticised proclamations about how beautiful Avonlea and the house are. It is when Marilla tells Matthew he must return Anne to the orphanage that we first see how difficult and wilful she can be. Anne is a very passionate character, and this quality demonstrates itself both in her lust for life and more negatively in her fits of anger. Marilla eventually warms to Anne for her infectious spirit and allows her to stay at Green Gables, but Anne finds it difficult to adjust to life outside of the orphanage, so in the first couple of episodes these outbursts are frequent. Some people I’ve talked to have said they couldn’t get into the show, I think due to Anne’s initially volatile nature and the fact that her prolific manner of speech is slightly grating until you get used to it. I would advise people to stick with the show until at least the third episode, as the portrayal of Anne’s less flattering traits is important to the plot because it allows the watcher to understand Marilla’s initial dislike of Anne and makes it more rewarding to see Anne settle emotionally and find her place in the community of Avonlea.
The first friend that Anne makes in Avonlea is Diana Barry. Her parents are wary of her associating with an orphan, but Diana is intrigued by Anne’s imagination and vivality. Anne in return is very taken with Diana, the first girl her age to ever show her kindness, and asks her to swear to be ‘bosom friends’. As the series progresses, several of the schoolgirls are continually cruel to Anne, but this serves to highlight the sweet dynamic between Anne, Diana, and a third friend Ruby. Anne is envious of her more wealthy friend’s dresses (and indeed, the costumes the show uses are so beautiful that I couldn’t help sharing in Anne’s lament that her own dress doesn’t have puffed sleeves) but in one episode, Diana thanks Anne for her compliment about her beauty, and confesses she’d rather be clever like Anne. The three girls set up the Avonlea Story Club together, which is something I’m glad the show kept from the book, as not only does it demonstrate the bond between these characters, but it is heartwarming to see the portrayal of young girls sharing an interest. Another female friendship the show explores is that of Marilla and Rachel Lynde, the Cuthberts’ neighbour and Avonlea’s resident gossip. This is a characteristic Marilla periodically condemns, but this does not stop her spending plenty of time in Rachel’s company. The two seem to often be in eachother’s kitchens baking together, and their natural chemistry proves both the idea that opposites attract, and the fact that the two character’s have known eachother since their youth.
As well as platonic relationships, the show does an excellent job of depicting familial relationships. Matthew and Marilla appear to understand eachother in the way only siblings who have been through many hardships together can, and this is only strengthened as Anne becomes part of their household. A particularly lovely scene is where they officially welcome her by inviting her to sign her name in the Cuthbert family bible. Anne, overcome with emotion at finally belonging to a family, excessively deliberates over which way round to double barrel ‘Shirley’ and Cuthbert’, and Marilla, who is by now used to her antics, chides her affectionately. By contrast, the Barrys have a more fraught dynamic. Mr Barry seems very much concerned with money and maintaining his family’s high status, whereas Mrs Barry is perpetually irked that her husband never takes her opinion on board. She raises Diana and her sister without much maternal closeness, as she wants them to be proper young ladies.
Diana has a much closer relationship with her Great Aunt Josephine. In season two, Aunt Josephine invites both Diana and Anne to her annual grand party, and it is here that Diana discovers that the nature of Aunt Josephine’s relationship with her late female companion was romantic. She is shocked and upset, both because Aunt Josephine has been hiding this as long as she’s known her and she has been taught that homosexuality is wrong through her religious upbringing. However, this tension is diffused after she listens to Anne exclaim her desire for a relationship as beautifully ‘romantical’ as theirs. It is safe to say that this episode is my favourite of the whole series, both because it is so rare to see elderly sapphic women in media, and because the episode is frankly beautiful. Throughout the series, the rural Canadian scenery is easy on the eye, but none of it compares to the extravagance of the party Aunt Josephine throws. It is delightful to see Anne and Diana don vibrant floral wreaths, and incredibly empowering to see gay and gender-nonconforming people who are affluent and happy to be among lifelong friends at the party.
The show has it all: wonderful cinematography, powerful themes surrounding relationships, good LBGT representation, and characters you can’t help but falling in love with.