EDINBURGH – Now in its third and final season, the CBC and Netflix show “Anne with an E” tells the story of Anne Shirley, the heroine known from the classic children’s book Anne of Green Gables.
It is another one among many screen adaptations of Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel, which was first published in 1908.
Since it first aired in 2017, “Anne with an E” has received mixed reviews and seems to be the most controversial adaptation by far.
“Anne” revolves around the titular character, a young red-haired orphan, who arrives at Green Gables, a farm in the Canadian countryside. We see her struggle as she finds her place in the new community, makes friends and enemies, and – inevitably – grows into a young woman.
The creators treated the novel liberally, introducing new characters and events which weave contemporary issues untouched in the books into Anne’s life.
The show touches on topics such as racism, domestic abuse, gender parity, homosexuality, and even indigenous histories.
As is the case with literary classics, some people will always argue against any modifications to the original plot. What we must remember is that works of art, including literature, do not exist in a vacuum, and times change.
Using a canonical novel to force the debate – or at least educate – on the assimilation of Native Americans in 19th century Canada is certainly not a crime. In fact, the show producers’ decision was a powerful move.
Stripping a childhood classic from its sentimental coating can be painful but it proves that no time is ever without its struggles.
“Anne with an E” received heavy criticism from various sources for being ‘too dark’, or for abusing Montgomery’s book to suit the creators’ political agenda.
I disagree with both. “Anne” has subtle humor and silver linings, and there are beyond doubt much darker shows on Netflix and no one bats an eye.
Second, “Anne” has taken all measures to respect the original. The casting work was brilliant, with Amybeth McNulty becoming perhaps the most believable Anne out of all the Annes so far. She’s scrawny and annoying, and her relationship with her adoptive parents – the Cuthberts – reveals the actors’ terrific skills as the show evolves through the seasons.
The costumes, interiors, and breathtaking views take you right away to the 1890s Canadian countryside for as long as you watch.
The show definitely has great potential if it were to be continued into season four. The topic of residential schools in Canada could be developed further, as it hasn’t been discussed in any major film productions as of yet. There’s plenty of room for character development, and the ending served up by Netflix goes against any feminist messages that’d appeared earlier on.
Was “Anne” right or wrong to amend the original plot? Readers and viewers must answer that for themselves, but my view stands: “Anne” does not take anything away from the book. If anything, it makes it better. It’s a brave experiment on how a classic can be more inclusive.
And after all, who is better than Anne Shirley to stand up for justice and equality?
Joanna Koter is a Correspondent with Youth Journalism International.