Meet the new Gilbert Blythe.
Probably my biggest concern about any new treatment of Anne of Green Gables is Gilbert Blythe. Because, OBVIOUSLY, I adore Gilbert Blythe.
NO ONE will ever replace the irreplaceable Jonathan Crombie for me. And that’s true of many of you, as well. So I was on edge in anticipation for last night’s new episode of “Anne,” because I knew we’d meet the new Gil.
The sublimely Matthew-ish R.H. Thompson had already passed my strenuous though subjective Matthew Cuthbert test, so I wondered, would Lucas Jade Zumann pass my even harder Gilbert test? Miraculously, he did, with one believable act of gallantry. An off-book act of gallantry, mind you, one that takes place before the iconic slate scene. You know, where Anne wrathfully smashes her slate across Gilbert’s tousled head and he tries to take the blame with that CREEPER TEACHER Mr. Phillips.
I’m here to tell you, kindred spirits, we can all collapse in relief (because a poorly cast Gil is an abomination). This young actor embodies Gilbert in a worthy fashion. He’s thoughtful but never brooding, quiet but not shy, perceptive, and charmingly gallant, a budding nobleman of Avonlea village (and Lord knows, as Avonlea is portrayed in this new series, it needs more noblemen and women!).
For those of you who are herniating a disc right now, listen– LISTEN:
You are not betraying Jonathan Crombie by liking this new Gil.
Zumann, a 15-year-old Chicagoan, is a Gilbert for a new generation, and it’s been THIRTY-TWO YEARS. Those of you who are caterwauling “NO!!!!” “NEVER!!!” “Not EVEN Upon Threat of Dismemberment!!!” about accepting this new series and its players need to calm down just a little bit. Just a little tiny bit!
With that being said, I’m still struggling a bit with the off-bookness of it all, but less than I was. The three main actors are absolutely killing it every week, and the bond that is building between Anne, Matthew and Marilla is something to behold. This bond is something beautiful, something strong and fierce and capable of withstanding the ferocious winds of prejudice, rejection, misunderstanding and trauma of a shattered beginning. And our Anne Girl has many such storms. In Amybeth McNulty’s hands, Anne so badly wants to be accepted it is rolling off of her in waves. And of course, her insecurity is detected immediately by that Queen of Mean Girls, Josie Pye, who is as loathsome, spiteful, gloating and hideous as ever. I devote an entire chapter to her bullying of Anne (woven with my own bullying story from Grade Eight) in “Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter and Me.” “Vanquishing Josie Pye.” She’s insufferable and makes Anne’s life a living Hades. Poor, dear Anne! How my heart squeezed for her when she was so badly mistreated on her first days at Avonlea School.
But Anne’s heartbreak is now being tended by loving hands, which makes this episode redemptive. She’s not alone anymore. Now she has Marilla, a budding mother, whose crusty facade is cracking open more by the day. It’s no wonder Geraldine James is an OBE (a recipient of the Order of the British Empire) for her acting.
And Matthew is her great champion as well. These two old sheep have been thrown in the deep end of parenting, and all we can do is watch with a mix of trepidation and admiration. Parenting ain’t for chickens, that’s for darn sure. And mothering a traumatized, lonely, broken girl whose wounds are being reopened by a cold-hearted bunch of Pyes and other assorted idiots? That is an act of sheer valor, people.
In the whispered words of Aslan to Lucy in Narnia, “Take courage, dear heart.”
That’s for Matthew, Marilla, and Anne. All three of them will need it badly. And it’s for any of us who need to hear it, now.
Have any of you been able to watch?