When you adapt such a book – especially such a beloved book as Anne of Green Gables, you have two options. You can choose to be 100% faithful to the books, or you can choose to keep to the spirit of the source material, without adhering to the pages 100%.
The Anne of Green Gables adaptation from 1985 is delightfully true to the books, and as someone who grew up watching and re-watching that version, I would have told you, if you’d asked me before this episode, that I hoped this version would do the exact same thing.
But – one episode in, and despite the fact that episode 1 is remarkably faithful in many ways; I have decided that I don’t need a remake of the 1985 version. I own the DVDs of that, and I can always re-watch them if needed. What I need is …for Anne to be Anne. My Anne. Our Anne.
And …she is.
Amybeth McNulty had the look, and yet, there was no way of knowing for sure if she could be Anne until we saw her babble on and on, until we saw her lose her temper with Rachel Lynde (as we all would have), until we saw her confess to something she didn’t do just to be able to stay at Green Gables.
But now, we know. For a new generation, she is Anne. And, even for those of us who knew another Anne, another Marilla, another Matthew, this new adaptation can still make us laugh and cry and just …enjoy.
After all, as Anne would say: “It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”
We didn’t even have to make up our minds firmly in this case.
So, let’s discuss “Your Will Shall Decide Your Destiny” (Anne titles are the best titles):
MATTHEW FALLS IN LOVE
I have always loved Matthew Cuthbert more than I can properly explain with words. But, for all of you, and for my childhood self, I’m going to try. R. H. Thomson has, after all, earned the words of praise.
The thing about Matthew is that he’s a shy man, one who’s more comfortable away from people, working the lands at Green Gables. He defers to Marilla in almost all occasions and he never seems to want any trouble. Matthew is perfectly content to live as he has lived, and were he not for the fact that he was getting on in years, he might not have been so keen on the idea of adopting a boy.
But for him, a boy is merely that. Help. Not a future son, not someone to talk to – help around Green Gables. He has no other expectations.
And then he meets Anne, and he falls in love.
There are many kinds of love – there’s romantic love and friendship love and familial love. Matthew’s family has always been Marilla and he didn’t think he wanted – no, needed anyone else to feel complete, but then he meets Anne, and on that first ride home, she makes him smile. She makes him feel light.
She makes him feel like she belongs at Green Gables.
And it’s not just because Matthew can see that Anne brings joy and happiness where he goes, no, it’s because he can also see the part of her that’s broken, the part of her that needs love, the part of her that aches to belong somewhere.
Green Gables is Matthew’s home, and from the moment she starts babbling, Matthew clearly decides he wants it to be Anne’s home as well.
MARILLA IS NOT PLEASED
Marilla Cuthbert, perfectly portrayed in this by Geraldine James, is a sharp, severe woman. She likes rules and order and she rebels against anything that could deviate from her plans – especially Anne. Part of it is fear, of course, and part of it is that she’s stifled the part of herself that is a little bit like Anne and it’s been so long since she’s let it out that it’s almost gone.
Despite her severity, though, Marilla is fair to a fault, and though she tries to hide it, possesses a biting sense of humor, that often comes out with Mrs. Rachel Lynde, and later on, with Anne. This is another reason why Anne rubs her the wrong way, Marilla is not used to anyone pushing the boundaries of the life she’s chosen to live, and accepting that Anne will do that every day of her life is very hard for someone used to living life the way she does.
From early on, Marilla can see what Matthew wants, what Anne wants, and yet she fights against it because it goes against her plans, and plans are tantamount in her life. If you don’t plan and adhere to plan, you can and will get hurt.
Her conscience and her good nature get the better of her, though. Faced with leaving Anne in a situation she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy, she is forced to accept that perhaps, the best place for the girl – and the best thing for all parties involved, is to keep her.
That is, until the end, where her rigidity is once again questioned. Marilla sends Anne away not because Anne lied, or because the broach is lost, but because she’s scared she’s letting her into her heart and Anne is bound to disappoint her. That’s why her reaction is so over-the-top when she finds the broach.
Marilla can live with many things, but she can’t live with being responsible for the pain she’s feeling. It’s always easier when you can blame someone else.
ANNE IS ANNE
Anne has always been the most important part of this story – and I’m happy to report that, after episode 1, I can say unequivocally that Anne is …Anne. Maybe not at the beginning, when she starts babbling, but certainly by the time she and Matthew get to Green Gables.
She’s Anne, and she just wants to be loved.
This adaptation goes into Anne’s PTSD and her problems at the orphanage much more than the 1985 version did, and in a way, it’s the perfect thing to explain her behavior, and also, to allow this adaptation to break away from the shadow of its predecessor and be its own thing.
Here, Anne is a little girl who has never been taught anything, but who’s smart, imaginative and so very loving. She’s a girl who wants a family, who wants to belong somewhere, but who also wants to live and have friends and help her new family.
She’s a girl of big words and even bigger feelings, and it’s impossible not to fall in love with her when she’s asking to be called Penelope, when she’s spouting off progressive (for the time period) ideas like girls being able to do anything a boy can do, or when she’s just letting her imagination fly.
This is not the Anne we knew, but it’s an Anne we can love. She’s an Anne with the same words and the same messages but with a much darker tone and an outlook that feels current. But then again, Anne’s messages have never been outdated. There’s always been a place for her on TV. And I’m glad she’s getting her chance.
We’re about to deviate from the books, people, and we’re about to deviate hard. Brace yourselves. I’m braced. This can either go two ways – really good or really bad.
I know I said I didn’t need an adaptation that was 100% faithful. And I don’t, I promise. But I do need them to keep to the spirit of the books, of Anne, of her relationship with Matthew and Marilla.
That’s all I ask.
(And for them to do Gilbert right. I also ask that)
Other things to note:
- Matthew Cuthbert is my favorite. I know I’m saying this without getting to see Gilbert and many others, but …Matthew. He’s a dear.
- I’ve always wanted to live in Prince Edward’s Island. This has done nothing to change my mind.
- I still dislike Mrs. Rachel Lynde.
- “Call me Penelope. Or Cordelia” – I always hated both these names. Anne is much prettier.
- I already know this story – and yet I cried my way through the first 40 minutes or so.
- But, I also laughed a lot at Anne’s babbles.
- “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes” is one of those phrases that I still use, to this day. Not everyone understands the reference. I judge people by whether they do or don’t.
- Fine, Mrs. Lynde. I know you’re not as awful as you seem.
- I think I always appreciated Diana Barry more for being Anne’s friend than for being Diana, but I get the sense there might be more scope for imagination in this version.
- Did I mention I love Matthew Cuthbert? Did I?
- I found myself loving Marilla Cuthbert much earlier in this version than in the 1985 version. Am I the only one?
- Sometimes we get to see stories about young girls and something is missing – when that happens, I often attribute it to the people behind the scenes.
- The episode title comes from Jane Eyre, chapter 23 in particular. I’d quote it for you, but me and Jane Eyre are not friends.
Anne With An ‘E’ is available to stream on Netflix right now.