From the theme music–the Tragically Hip’s “Ahead of the World by a Century”–on, you know this interpretation of “Anne of Green Gables” will be like none other.
I’m a Canadian expat, living in Michigan, so I was woebegone indeed at the thought of missing the world premiere. I schemed about making a run for the border, and then just for Detroit, where some hotels have the CBC. But then–HALLELUJAH!–it occurred to me that I know people…people with satellite dish hook-ups. People with the CBC!
So, along with my Torontonian friend Natalie (her very hair colour an homage to Anne), we journeyed to this undisclosed location, owned and operated by members of the Avonlea Mafia. We were even served imitation raspberry cordial as we watched! There were tears, there were laughs, but mostly we just looked at each other and gasped. “Wow”!
Written and executive produced by “Breaking Bad’s” scribe Moira Walley-Beckett, this new, super Canadian, 8-hour miniseries goes deep into the heart of Anne. She has a beautiful, glowing, hopeful heart, which has won over millions of readers since 1908. But realistically, her heart was also badly broken. There’s beauty in that, too.
Many people won’t care for it. They won’t want Anne to be dark or gritty or pre-feminist, but I believe she was all those things.
I kept thinking of one of my favorite quotes as I watched, by fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen:
“There is a crack in everything–that’s how the light gets in.”
1.”Anne” is cracked, in the best possible way, the way that lets the light in.
9 MORE Reasons to go deep into the broken, beautiful heart of Anne:
2. “Anne isn’t a remake, a reboot, a “re” anything at all. It’s simply one exceptional writer’s interpretation of a story and character with the potency to demand many interpretations. Like my friend Rachel McMillan, a Canadian and arch Lucy Maud Montgomery fan says, “People are all “I have my true adaptation” and I am all Why not farm for nuance in different ways with different adaptations? While the 1995 Pride and Prejudice is my favorite, I very much enjoyed watching the Keira Knightley (version).” Trust me, you can adore the 1986 Megan/Jonathan version (and I do!) and still be entranced with this one. I barely thought of that older version as I watched because they are just so different.
3. If you really want to know Anne on more than a surface level, this just goes much deeper into her orphan’s soul. We expect our literary orphans to be plucky, resilient, even magical (Harry Potter, natch). But what most of them have endured is beyond the pale. Here, it’s hard to watch as Anne is beaten by her foster parents (aka “owners”) and horrifically bullied by her fellow orphans in the “asylum.”
But trauma is part of her story and part of what makes her our dreamy, imaginative, openhearted Anne.
4. Her despair is not played totally for laughs, as it has been in other movies. Instead of laughing off her many peculiar speeches, Walley-Beckett takes a closer look and finds inner bruising and unfathomable vulnerability. When Anne says to Matthew (a superb R.H. Thompson), “Have you always wanted a daughter?” my heart pinged and pang-ed. Her needfulness is stark, at times, and not always easy to watch. But true to Anne? Yes. Honestly, Anne is all the more powerful when her orphan roots are exposed, not glossed over and charmed up beyond recognition. When Anne overhears Marilla say to Matthew, “only kin is kin,” before they decide to keep her, the message is loud and clear: You don’t belong, not really. Anne’s anxiety to be accepted is palpable. Adoptees hear these messages in different ways all their lives. Knowing this about Anne makes her eventual bond with the Cuthberts that much more heartwarming and triumphant.
5. AmyBeth McNulty as Anne is adorable, and she can also speak volumes with those huge, fearful eyes. We know that she is not exaggerating when she says life for her has been “a howling wilderness,” yet when she smiles, the sun comes out.
Anne carries both hope and pain, which McNulty portrays with skill and substance.
6. One reviewer made the apt comparison of this treatment to the works of the Bronte sisters. I recently read Jane Eyre and found myself comparing her and Anne at every turn. I loved that here, Anne quotes Jane Eyre at the outset of the film.
7. Josie Pye had her hands all over this thing! Yes, Mean Girl Josie Pye’s portrayer in the 1986 Sullivan film, Miranda de Pencier, is an executive producer of “Anne.” And she sincerely seems to love her NOW, as is evidenced in a “Globe and Mail” piece by Johanna Schneller:
“(Anne) is a ferocious character, intelligent, thoughtful and full of heart, who comes into a tough world and infuses it with hope. And with a challenge to everyone around her to be authentic.”
8. Geraldine James as Marilla conveys so much with her face, which softens almost imperceptibly as Anne starts to get under her calloused skin. I was so pleased with how the scene with Mrs. Lynde went, you know, the one where Mrs. Lynde calls Anne ugly and homely and scrawny and …everything. And Anne goes Full Metal Jacket Nuts back at her? That scene was removed ENTIRELY from the other new AOGG, much to my dismay. It’s absolutely pivotal to the story, for it is the moment when Marilla Cuthbert becomes a mother.
I devote an entire chapter to it (“Lawful Heart, Did Anyone Ever See such Freckles?”) in “Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter and Me.”
9. I could write an entire blog on the wonders of R.H. Thompson as Matthew. I will wax on in another review (I plan to watch all 8 installments and review them for you before “Anne” hits ‘Merica on May 12.) But for now, I’ll just say that I am extremely particular when it comes to my Matthews and my Gilberts. Thompson passed my Matthew test, which is hard to do.
Stoic. Gentle. Almost wordless. And brimming with pent up fatherly love in his crusty old heart! Heroic! Oh, he’s perfect, just perfect.
10. Prince Edward Island’s scenery is sublime. I was thrilled to see my Gentle Island on such gorgeous display throughout the film. Red, craggy cliffs. Green fields spilling into silvery harbors. Lighthouses and bucolic country paths. When I go there, I feel as if I belong there–my true home…sigh.
I’m not sure about what will happen in two weeks, because it looks like there will be wild deviations from the book. BUT! I was so won over by the first two hours that I may make an exception in my no wild deviation rule. If these deviations underscore some important part of Anne, I’m in. Probably. We’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?
What do my kindred spirits out there think? For those of you who have seen it, what do you think? I’m mostly hearing good things. And for those of you who are waiting for May 12, tell me your innermost thoughts!
Can you accept a more Jane Eyre-ish Anne? Can you accept Anne, broken orphan’s heart and all?
For more on “Anne”, including an interview with Anne’s portrayer, AmyBeth McNulty, here’s a link to L.M. Montgomery online, a website run by the wonderful LMM scholar Benjamin LeFebvre. Sign up for his site! He’s got lots of great content for kindred spirits.