Millions of little girls across the country (and a good number of little boys too, we hope) grew up reading the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery, which followed an awkward orphaned redhead through her life on Prince Edward Island at the turn of the 20th century. Millions more watched Anne Shirley grow up throughout the 1985 miniseries of the same name, which starred Megan Follows and presented a light, idyllic look at Anne as well as her time and place.
Now, CBC Television and Netflix have teamed together to create a new reimagining of the story, and one that promises to be a bit more somber and complicated than the adaptations that have come before and even, in some respects, the original text. Our first look at the series’ trailer for the plainly titled Anne confirms that the eight-episode first season isn’t going to be a cookie-cutter version of the tale, and that it might tell us more about both the past and the present than you might expect.
“Anne is damaged”
The first thing we noticed in the two-minute trailer, which we watched four times in a row until the shivers stopped, was that the Anne, played by newcomer Amybeth McNulty, is going to be a more complicated, rounder character, perhaps than ever before. We see her in some traditional “Anne” moments, like when she breaks a tablet over a boy’s head in class, but also in some fresh and moving moments — crying in her nightgown as she looks out at the ocean, walking through the foggy forest, collapsing to the ground when she finds out her adoption has been a mistake. She also seems to be more of everything: She looks more awkward than Follows ever did, and seems to be even more lost in her world of imagination. She also seems more affected by her traumatic childhood.
These are no mistakes. Showrunner and award-winning screenwriter Moira Walley-Beckett wanted a more complex Anne to be at the heart of the project, noting, “Anne is damaged. She never wasn’t.” Walley-Beckett, who is best known for her Emmy-winning writing for Breaking Bad, wanted to bring out deeper themes in her reimagining and to delve deeper into Anne’s darker side, which is only hinted at in the books.
“An accidental feminist”
Anne also strives to take on new (and topical) topics of conversation that have only been skimmed in past adaptations.
“Anne was an accidental feminist,” Walley-Beckett told SheKnows. “She was ahead of her time. The themes of equality, gender parity, feminism, intolerance and prejudice against those who ‘come from away’ are all built into L.M. Montgomery’s story. And since Anne is so timeless and timely, I’m bringing these issues to the forefront and taking part in the current conversation.”
We can see a few teeny glimpses of this in the trailer. In one shot, we see Anne bucking gender roles as she tells Marilla, “Girls can do anything a boy can do — and more!’ In another, we see her experiencing bullying, both based on her looks and her background.
“The freedom to imagine”
Another hint we gleaned from the trailer is that this is not going to be a scene-by-scene reboot of the book or the ’80s miniseries. While some scenes are lovingly familiar to any fan, like Marilla saying, “We sent word to Mrs. Spencer to bring us a boy,” others seem totally new. Walley-Beckett has confirmed this as well, saying that she wanted to retell the original story while also adding new events and stories.
How did she create the new material?
“I read between the lines of the book, and just like Anne herself, I gave myself the freedom to imagine,” she said. “In addition to staying true to the place and the characters within the book (and making sure the world and the people who populate it feel depthful and real), I wanted to be sure to include all the most beloved iconic moments amid some new territory. For example, the epic Mrs. Lynde apology, the slate, raspberry cordial, puffed sleeves… We approach these moments from a slightly different direction, but they’re all there!”
Walley-Beckett has also said that Anne will be more true to its time and place, showing more of the harsh realities of what it was like to live on Prince Edward Island in the 1890s, largely isolated and with limited opportunities.
But fans fearful that their beloved Avonlea has been altered in some drastic way shouldn’t be worried. While Walley-Beckett has added depth, she also took a careful and caring approach to her series. “I fondly [approached the story] with regard for the world and the characters amid an abiding and profound respect for L.M. Montgomery,” she said.
And from the trailer, it looks like she might have done a completely fabulous job of it.
Anne debuts May 12 on Netflix.