The promise of a fresh Saturday morning hung in the air.
My mother, having already polished off her second cup of coffee, sat down in her armchair with her third, her knitting basket by her side. Unfurling the blue denim needle roll, she selected her favourite 5mm tortoiseshell pair, consulted her pattern, cast on, and began knitting away.
This was my cue.
“Pride and Prejudice, or Anne of Green Gables?” I asked.
It was a rehearsed line, and she slid into it comfortably.
Anne of Green Gables – it was a VHS tape back in those days – was extracted from its squeaky plastic case and dutifully inserted into the old VCR player. The television, with a mere 48cm screen, was wheeled closer to the couch on its little cart. Then I burrowed down deep into my fort of cushions and blankets, hot chocolate in a mug that twinned my mother’s held tightly in my hands, and lost myself in Avonlea.
Anne was my first literary hero, and I truly loved everything about her. Long before the original film and its sequel made its way under the Christmas tree, I had swallowed the books whole, naming random little glens and pockets of rural sunshine in a style that matched Anne’s. Our orchard, when in came into flower, was my White Way of Delight. And the mucky brown dam (if you squinted at just the right moment when the sun bounced off the still surface), became my Lake of Shining Waters. We all knew a Rachel Lynde, a Matthew Cuthbert, even a Gilbert Blythe.
Especially a Gilbert Blythe.
The ‘right’ Anne
Until Anne With An E premiered on Netflix last year, I had held an unwavering opinion on the ‘correct’ Anne, and the ‘right’ way to portray her. The 1985 film with Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie and it’s sequel in 1987 were canon, that was undeniable. The ‘Continuing Story’ and ‘A New Beginning’, released in 2000 and 2008 respectively, were best forgotten quickly. There was no way the sweet, pure, bildungsroman-esque feel of the early ‘Annes’ – a trajectory that meandered in and out of my own experiences – could be improved upon.
Tomorrow is a new day…with no mistakes in it yet
And then Anne with an E happened. Somehow, inexplicably, the filmmakers had managed to preserve the wonder of the original and infuse it with something new and raw and…real. That’s what it felt like, as a confirmed Anne devotee, watching it for the first time. The bones of the original story remained and it still felt like the ‘old’ Anne; like an old friend, or a warm hug, or a cozy blanket on a cold day.
But there was also a new freshness, a darkness that felt like the HD version of the story I already knew well. The sanitised ‘forgotten orphan’ storyline of my youth was layered with a sense of harsh reality that never truly disintegrated into the morose. The hope was still there, at the end of it all.
The cinematography was amazing, and the actors were wonderful. Irish Canadian actress Amybeth McNulty is a tumultuous collection of fast-talking freckles, and she has depth and brilliantly awkward teeth and just fits. At one point (after receiving a sound whack from Anne’s slate) the ‘new’ Gilbert (17 year old Lucas Zumann) throws the briefest of cheeky smirks and that’s all it took. Just like that, I was fourteen again and the Anne/Gilbert magic had bewitched me a second time. Among the raft of romantic teen dramas and boundary-pushing new series otherwise showing on Netflix, Anne with an E feels like a slow burn – but it’s a deliciously slow burn.
And honestly? I’m more than okay with that.
The second series of Anne With An E returns to CBC and Netflix in 2018.