[Property of Netflix.]
If you’ve never actually read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, you probably thought Netflix’s recent adaptation was great.
Anne Shirley is easily one of the most beloved, most enduring children’s characters of all time. I was first introduced to the 1908 classic when my preteen self stumbled upon a copy in my grandmother’s house. As a skinny redhead with a short temper and a wild imagination, you could say that Anne was my kind of girl.
When Netflix released their adaptation, Anne With an E, I was ecstatic… until about 90 minutes in.
Now, let me preface this by saying that there are plenty of good qualities about the Netflix series. The setting is stunning and the costumes are painstakingly detailed. Marilla Cuthbert and even Anne herself couldn’t have been cast better (Geraldine James and Amybeth McNulty, respectively). Alas, I agree with most of the Internet when I say I’m ultimately disappointed. Vanity Fair declares “Netflix’s Bleak Adaptation Gets It All So Terribly Wrong.” The New Yorker offers a lesson in “How Not to Adapt ‘Anne of Green Gables.’”
To be fair, I haven’t re-read Anne of Green Gables in perhaps a decade. It’s entirely possible that I forgot more of the plot details than I thought. However, by the second episode, I found myself scratching my head and asking “wait, what?”
Does anyone else recall Matthew Cuthbert chasing Anne down in a train station after Marilla sends her away? Did that even happen in the books? No? Okay, didn’t think so.
Anne Shirley has long since been hailed as literary feminist icon, and many argue that Marilla Cuthbert is as well. Without ever using the word “feminist” or using any of the classic “I don’t have to be a housewife” moments seen in media of the current era, there’s never any question of female agency in the books. Anne is intelligent, headstrong, and refuses to let her circumstances define her. L.M. Montgomery didn’t write any big feminist manifestos, because she didn’t have to.
For some reason, the Netflix series felt the need to take what was already quietly present in 1908 and put it in 2017 terms with all the subtlety and nuance of a chainsaw. This article from Autostraddle describes my exact sentiments on the ridiculousness of Marilla Cuthbert attending a feminist book club: “Marilla Cuthbert, who never married and ran half a farm her whole life and raised a daughter who believed she could accomplish anything a man could do and more. Marilla, a naive dimwit who is freaked out in 1900 by the word feminism.”
I understand that no adaptation is going to stick to the source material completely, but the added events were so cliched it bordered on comical: Anne saving the day during the house fire, Anne saving the farm when all hope was lost. The phrase “Mary Sue” leaps to mind, but I’m not sure it fully applies. Don’t even get me started on Gilbert Blythe becoming an orphan in a heavy-handed attempt to highlight his connection with Anne. Hi, Lifetime movies called, they’re suing you for copyright infringement.
Anne Shirley does not have to run into a burning house to prove herself as a character. Anne Shirley is not a superhero. Anne Shirley is not a beacon who rushes in and saves the day. Anne Shirley is a plucky orphan who sees the light when all her world is darkness, who gets into trouble but always finds her way out; who brings out the best in everyone.
Nice try, Netflix, but you might want to sit this one out.