Diana Barry is the ultimate kindred spirit, the yin to Anne of Green Gables’ yang, a true blue pal for the ages. But who played her best? Was it Schuyler Grant from 1985’s Anne of Green Gables, or Dalila Bela, from the recent Netflix/CBC Anne With an E? Let’s talk Diana, shall we?
Some insightful, anonymous soul once said that a “friend is one who overlooks your broken fence and admires the flowers in your garden.”
Diana’s incandescent gift to Anne was to see all of her, broken fence and all, and meet her with acceptance and the message we all want to hear: You are enough. Diana focuses stubbornly on the gorgeous array of bright, shiny gifts her best friend Anne brings to her rather dull, constrained life. But let’s remember that Diana, “a very pretty little girl, with her mother’s black eyes and hair, and rosy cheeks, and the merry expression which was her inheritance from her father,” brought so much to Anne’s life, too.
Diana was the first person to love Anne, or at least to tell her so. Anne’s orphan heart began to heal at that moment. Diana understood Anne though they were as different as Raspberry Cordial and Red Currant Wine (you can guess who is who in this red drink metaphor). Through Diana’s believing, encouraging, and ever-supportive eyes, Anne’s “spirit, fire and dew” was transposed into vivid, unconventional and lovable. Where others found Anne bizarre and “other,” Diana embraced her weirdness and celebrated her creativity. It was Diana whose sympathetic gaze counteracted Josie Pye’s malicious one, and she turned “pale with pity” when her friend was wrongfully punished by that creeper Mr. Phillips.
Yes, we who revere Anne can’t help but adore Diana. We would love nothing more than to spend the whole summer with her at the White Sands Hotel eating ice cream and chicken salad. And we would give anything to share Raspberry Cordial Margaritas and watch the sunset, debating whether Lucy Maud Montgomery, when describing Diana’s guy Fred as “round and red,” meant that in a good way. (Hopefully, there is a good way.)
No question, we are very fond of Diana Barry, which makes it absolutely crucial that we also approve of who plays her in various film retellings.
A while ago, I compared the actors and actresses who have played Anne, Gilbert, Matthew, and Marilla, and got a PEI potato bushel-full of comments. Mamma Mia, did you guys ever have strong opinions! Pretty much nobody liked the gregarious Martin Sheen as shy Matthew, and you were extremely protective of your favorite Gilbert Blythe, whether it be the late Jonathan Crombie or Lucas Jade Zumann of Anne With an E. We got really on-point comments and some scintillating discussion going, so don’t slow your roll now, Anne Devotees of the Internet. Yes, Let’s talk Diana!
Every comment will be entered in a contest to win this glorious and oh-so-kindred mug from Carrot Top Paper shop!
1. Schuyler Grant, 1985
Pros: I recently rewatched the 1985 miniseries, with Megan Follows as Anne and Schuyler Grant as Diana. Did you know that Grant tried out for Anne first? I can’t imagine her as Anne, maybe because Megan was so perfectly cast, and also because Schuyler nails her portrayal of loyal, empathetic Diana.
There are so many fabulous Diana scenes–at the Sunday school picnic when she and Anne meet and hit it off, as kindred spirits do; when Diana gives that mean floof Josie Pye pushback–“Hey Josie, how do you spell “ugly”?”; and of course, when she accidentally gets drunk on NOT Raspberry Cordial. In this iconic scene, Schuyler is so convincingly sauced, and so pale and sickly directly afterward, I always feel a bit of real concern for her.
I also cherish all the ways in which Diana cared for Anne’s heart. Schuyler’s natural compassion and kindness shone through and made her performance especially touching.
(Trivia: Schuyler is the great-niece of Katherine Hepburn, was once an actress on All My Children, and is now a world-famous yogi! Look at her now!)
Cons: I always thought she seemed a bit old and tall (why that would bother me I don’t know, except her height made her look older) to play Diana, though she was only 15 when she did. Also, her hair is dyed, and it looks dyed to me. Considering her natural coloring, jet black makes her look a bit too pale, even for the scene where she is drunk and ill.
Dalila Bela, “Anne with an E,” 2017–2019
Pros: It’s hard to compare the two Dianas, because the “new” bosom friend plays a role that goes way beyond the book and into serious fan fiction territory. (Can you imagine LMM’s Diana taking up with the farmhand Jerry, no matter how cute Aymeric Jett Montaz is?)
Physically, I think Dalila looks more like the Diana of the book, younger, more like a “little girl.” Dalila’s Diana is more emotional and complex than Schuyler’s more placid, calm portrayal. She brings a certain giggliness and girlishness that is charming and fits the book. Plus, she is French Canadian, with some Latina in her heritage, and speaks eloquent, native French, something that would have boggled the mind of the very WASP-y Maud. (You know I love Maud, but her portrayal of French Canadians, as ignorant peasants, is sometimes troubling.) I wonder if this is why showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett made Diana speak French, to try and right a wrong? Having traveled to Quebec several times, and adoring it as I do, I actually like that Diana speaks French. This character is also more rebellious in Anne with an E, which makes sense because this Diana is placed in a far more stiff and snobby home than the book character. LMM’s Diana was the daughter of a well off farmer, not the daughter of a social-climbing businessman who, along with his pinched wife, wants to send their precious, delicate Di to finishing school in France. Although, Mrs. Barry is totally pinched in any format. She is the WORST.
Trivia: Dalila Bela was born in Montreal, Quebec. She is of English, French, Brazilian and Spanish ancestry. Her father is from Panama and her mother is from Brazil.
Cons: While I really enjoyed Dalila’s nuanced portrayal, she just doesn’t fit the simple, steady, unwavering Diana of the book. It’s as if she is playing a new character altogether.
For me, the Best Diana goes to…
Schuyler Grant. Schuyler conveys sweetness, loyalty, and devotion to Anne. She gently radiates such care and feeling for her friend, it’s hard not to be won over and moved by her performance. She’s also funny, and imbues the role with some wit and fizz.
Who is YOUR favorite Diana and why?
Tell me below, respectfully, of course, and we can all talk about Anne, Diana, Gilbert, and even round, red Fred until the cows come home (or they get let out of the pasture by mistake!)