There's a special mix of dread and excitement that hits when you find out that one of your favorite stories is being remade again. Will it add to the rich, beloved history of the franchise, or will it be so terrible that you wish you could erase the memory of the entire thing?
Remakes walk a fine line. People want to see their favorite scenes and hear their favorite lines, but they also want it to be fresh and different. They want to feel nostalgia, but also be surprised. Most of all, they want the spirit of the original to live on.
Thankfully, much to my deep, deep relief, Netflix's remake of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables story walks the line beautifully, offering generations of Anne fanatics (and hopefully a new generation of Anne fanatics who aren't yet familiar with the story) a world of Prince Edward Island that is at once familiar and sentimental but also new and exciting.
Let's take a look at what's different and what's the same when it comes to comparing the book, the 1980s miniseries and the new reboot.
Showrunner and series writer Moira Walley-Beckett, who is known for her award-winning screenwriting work for Breaking Bad, created the series knowing she wanted to give Prince Edward Island a more realistic feel for the time period, and boy does she.
From the opening scenes, we see a world that is a much harsher place than the picture the 1980s miniseries paints. The farmhouse furniture is sparse and drab, while the meals are simply made (think boiled eggs, boiled whole turnips, toast). This series' Matthew looks like he works himself to the brink every day and has dirt under his fingernails — facts that make it all the more touching when they decide to adopt Anne even though she's a girl.
There are other darker aspects too. Anne's orphan asylum is downright terrifying, and we get a much better sense of the harshness of her life before Green Gables. In general, 1890s Coastal Canada is a tough place to survive — at one strange point in the series, Anne is almost lured from a train station by a man pretending to know her and offering her candy.
Finally, while class and poverty were certainly issues in the book and more recent retellings, class is an issue that is front and center in Anne With an E. The difference between Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert's class and Anne's class is clear, while the difference between Anne's and Diana's classes is even more surprising.
Much in the tradition of Breaking Bad, the series opens with a flash-forward to Matthew galloping his plow horse through the ocean, racing to beat the train to the station and stop Anne from leaving town. It's a hint at what is to come in the series: more drama and more emotion than in the original books and movies. The change is a bit of an adjustment, but it's refreshing both to see a different interpretation as well as to get a closer peek at what Matthew, Marilla and Anne are all feeling during the story.
Everyone who has read the books and watched the miniseries feels like they know Anne Shirley. And we love her. In this retelling, Anne is exactly as wonderful, imaginative, charming and hot-tempered as she has ever been, but the reasons behind her lovable personality are explored more deeply. In Anne With an E, Anne is, as you would expect, a child of heartbreak and trauma. She has lost her parents, been physically and emotionally abused and felt alone for most of her life. It's the reason she escaped through books and pretending, but it's also something that still troubles her. While she can sometimes feel like a Pollyanna in other tellings, here, she is complex and delicate and struggling on a level we haven't seen. Not to mention that the actress, Amybeth McNulty, is absolutely fantastic in the role.
The very biggest difference that sets Anne With an E apart is that while the main storyline is intact, there are whole scenes and tangents that are 100 percent new. This would normally render a reboot unwatchable for me, but in this case, it is done with such smart editing and with such respect for the original books that it works.
Walley-Beckett said, "I read between the lines of the book, and just like Anne herself, I gave myself the freedom to imagine," and she does it superbly well. The scaffolding of the original story is kept intact, but missing scenes and moments are added that feel absolutely natural and right. They are scenes that add drama, complexity and depth to the story, while giving the show an opportunity to work in modern issues and ideas, like bullying, class and feminism.
In a way, the extra scenes feel like the highest-quality fan fiction, written by someone who is extremely familiar with the world and who deeply respects the author and her original intent.
Even though writer Walley-Beckett was not at all afraid to go off script and add her own imagination to the story, she is also obviously a fan of the books and shares her love of specific scenes, lines and moments. You will not watch Anne With an E waiting for your favorite line and be disappointed when it doesn't appear. As far as I can tell, all of the best lines and moments remain. It's a miracle, especially considering all of the new scenes, and it's a miracle I am thankful for.
I think every American who grew up watching the Anne of Green Gables miniseries in the '80s remembers that everyone in Canada says "sorry" in a funny way. And yep, it's still true.
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