Last week I began a familiar task that I have completed annually since 2008: re-reading the novel “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery. Yet, this year, my perception of the book has been slightly altered by my recent viewing of the Netflix series “Anne With An E.”
First published in 1908, “Anne of Green Gables” is a coming-of-age story about a red-headed Canadian orphan named Anne Shirley who is adopted by aging siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. It is a story of love, family and friendship that has endured in popularity since it was first published.
Since my discovery of the novel when I was twelve, I have read every other novel by L.M. Montgomery and have seen countless adaptations of “Anne,” including the 1985 mini-series, two musicals, an anime and two webseries. So, naturally, when I first heard that Netflix would release an original series based on the book, I was intrigued.
The series, which premiered last March, has recently been renewed for a second season. There is currently no release date, but, according to Express, the second season will premiere before the end of 2018.
While I am excited to see the direction this series goes in, I definitely have some reservations about a second season after seeing the first.
I am not sure why the creator decided to end the first season on a scary cliffhanger. Anyone who has read anything by L.M. Montgomery knows of the author’s penchant for hopeful endings. Not everything is always happy, but that element of hope is crucial. I understand that the series is bound to be different from the book, but, at the same time, I do not believe it was necessary to add a ridiculous plot point simply to get viewers to keep watching. This is clearly why the story element of violent robbers renting a room at Green Gables was added. While the show was advertised as being a darker version of “Anne of Green Gables,” this seemed too out-of-place and sensationalized. There was also no build-up to it; it comes out of nowhere in the final episode.
Additionally, one of the main characters, Matthew Cuthbert (played by R.H. Thomson) attempts suicide in the series. This was outrageously out-of-character. In the book, Matthew always provides hope and support for his adopted daughter and his sister. It is impossible to imagine the character ever deciding to take his own life and leave them behind in this way. It felt like this plot point was added simply to make the show more exciting. Matthew was also given a love interest, which was ill-advised and completely unnecessary. This character was created solely to be Matthew’s romantic interest and was not present in the book. In the book, Matthew comes to understand love through his growing affection for Anne (played by Amybeth McNulty); it is completely unnecessary and diminishing of his character for him to have a love interest. It is such a huge deal in the book that he comes to care for Anne because he is extremely shy and terrified of females. The fact that he was in love with a woman for years on the show takes away this beautiful aspect of the story.
While some of producer Moira Walley-Beckett’s choices were questionable, she also made some welcome additions to the lore of “Anne.” There is a touching moment in the second episode when Matthew first refers to Anne as his daughter. This moment was not in the book, but it was truly beautiful as it added to the bond that these two characters have. The score and the performances of the principal actors added to the emotional weight of the scene, and I had to pause the show so I could wipe away tears. Walley-Beckett also added a sub-plot in which Anne reveals her love for the novel “Jane Eyre.” This is definitely in-character, and, in a nod to fellow “Jane Eyre” lovers, each episode title is a quote from the Charlotte Brontë novel. The show also expounds upon the relationship between Marilla (played by Geraldine James) and her ex-beau John Blythe (played by Wayne Best) which was only touched upon in the book and was very interesting to watch.
The best part of “Anne With An E,” however, was definitely the performances of the actors. Amybeth McNulty, who is fairly new to the acting scene, gives a terrific performance as Anne. She is spirited, emotional and funny, just as the character was meant to be. Other highlights include Lucas Jade Zumann as Gilbert, Geraldine James as Marilla and Aymeric Jett Montaz as Jerry.
I am definitely excited to see these actors reprise their roles in the second season. I hope to see more satisfying moments like the one in the second episode. However, I also would like to see the creator stay away from adding any other unnecessary or out-of-character plot points for the sake of making a sensation. Season two of “Anne With An E” has the potential to be truly great, and I hope with all my heart that it will exceed my expectations.