CBC’s and Netflix’s “Anne”: Episode 1 – A Bit more Dark than Beloved 1985 Miniseries
You know how some things stand the test of time and somethings don’t. In the latter, I would say the animated 1986 film Transformers: the Movie is an example of that. When I first saw the Transformers movie based on the animated TV show, I loved it. Thought it was the best movie I ever saw (hey, I was a kid, I didn’t know any better). When I saw the film again as an adult, I realized it really was a terrible movie (although not as terrible as the Michael Bay movies of the toys).
In the former category, I would put the 1985 CBC miniseries Anne of Green Gables in it. When I first saw the miniseries that starred Megan Follows in the title role, I was enraptured. Loved it and went on to read most of the books in the series (I didn’t read “Rainbow Valley”, “Anne of Windy Poplars” and “Anne of Avonlea”). That miniseries was faithful to the book and have watched it multiple times throughout the years. 32 years later, the miniseries still holds and the performances from the entire cast still just as great. 32 years of loving the tale of a brother and sister being sent a red-headed girl by the name of Anne Shirley instead of the boy they wanted as a hired hand.
When YTV did their own adaptation, I initially didn’t watch it (confession I actually never knew about it but had to be told about it) but it came on over American Thanksgiving last year and decided to watch it. And it was truly awful. Ella Ballentine’s Anne was too saccharine and just didn’t capture Anne the way Follows did. Now granted, I will admit that Follows was too old to play a 12 to 13 year old Anne as she was 16 at the time of playing her. So I understand that Ballentine was the correct age to play Anne but to me she just didn’t get her the way Follows did. I also understand why they got Follows to play the part because Anne did age throughout the 4 hours as she went from a tween to a girl on the verge of womanhood and you can’t do that with a 12 year old. Even after seeing Diana Barry (Dalila Bela) in the new CBC version and the YTV version, I realize that Schuyler Grant was definitely too old to be Diana Barry but again the character ages too.
My other issue with the YTV version was that Martin Sheen was not right as Matthew Cuthbert. Matthew is supposed to be painfully shy and Sheen was not. Richard Farnsworth will forever be Matthew for me as he just captured the painful shyness of the character. Also, Sara Botsford is no Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla Cuthbert. Botsworth was not stern enough and her melting to Anne wasn’t as natural as Dewhurst. Also, the woman that played Rachel Lynde was too friendly and wasn’t confrontational or busy body as Patricia Hamilton was in the miniseries. Don’t get me started on Diana Barry and Gilbert Blythe on the YTV version. Also, the YTV version was incomplete as it didn’t do the entire book. I know that there is another version and I hated the tagline “The Good Stars” or whatever nonsense it was. And there is going to be another one in 2018 that perhaps actually finishes the novel up.
Now on to the CBC/Netflix interpretation of L.M. Montgomery’s classic 1908 heroine. When I first heard about this version and it being a grittier version of the tale, I was skeptical, especially hearing that Breaking Bad writer Moira Walley-Beckett was going to be the showrunner. Another thing that I wasn’t so sure of was RH Thomson as Matthew. It isn’t that I don’t think Thomson can play shy, I know he can because he did so through being Jasper Dale on Road to Avonlea but that is the thing; Thomson to me will be Jasper Dale as I totally loved him as that character and I associate him with that character so closely. And Thomson isn’t the only Road to Avonlea connection as the train conductor at Bright River was Ian D. Clark who played Simon Tremaine the owner of the White Sands Hotel in season 5 to 7. Another connection to the 1985 miniseries is that Anne’s executive producer is Miranda de Pencier. If you don’t recognize the name, you may recall the character she played in the miniseries: Josie Pye.
It is interesting that the show uses the Tragically Hip’s “Ahead by a Century” for its theme music. Not quite sure about using modern music for a period piece plus nothing can compare to Hagood Hardy’s iconic score to the CBC miniseries. And of note, I believe each episode title will be quotes from my favourite classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Anne even quotes a bit of Jane Eyre in the episode.
As for Amybeth McNulty, I can say she is better than Ballantine but not quite as good as Follows. Like Ballantine, McNulty is the correct age to play Anne and the new show probably won’t age Anne to almost young womanhood the way Kevin Sullivan did so it will be interesting to see what happens if the show gets a second season. Now I actually do like Geraldine James as Marilla, she gets her sternness right and seeing her slowly warm to Anne in episode 1 was good.
I am not 100% sure I want to see Anne’s painful past before arriving at Green Gables. In the 1985 miniseries, we do see that the Hammond’s aren’t nice to Anne. In Anne, the Hammond’s are downright abusive towards her to the point where Mr. Hammond suffers his fateful heart take giving Anne a beating. In the 1985 miniseries, Mr. Hammond does die of a heart attack but at the mill when Anne is on her way to deliver his lunch. Both versions do capture the fact that Anne’s chatty and imaginative personality is a way for her to escape the misery of her real-life and coming to Green Gables is indeed a dream come true.
Throughout episode 1, we get triggers to Anne’s pre-Green Gables life like the above mentioned beating from Mr. Hammond to Mrs. Hammond abandoning her to other girls torturing Anne with a dead mouse. I actually got a bit teary-eyed at seeing these. I also got teary-eyed when Anne was distraught at the thought at not being wanted by Marilla and Matthew. As well, when Anne was about to be left at Mrs. Bluett, I almost cried when Marilla explained how she is still thinking of keeping Anne.
Episode 1 hits all the high notes of Anne’s arrival to Green Gables from her first encounter with Rachel Lynde and subsequent “apology” to her meeting Diana Barry and their vows to be bosom buddies. Also, the scene after Marilla sends Anne away for losing her cherished broach and then finding it, I did like seeing her realize she made a mistake and Matthew trying to catch up to bring her back. Of course we know that Matthew does.
So yes, episode 1 was a bit dark and at times I did find McNulty a tad bit grating when she was being melodramatic as Anne but overall she was fine as Anne. As I said above, better than Ballentine but not as great as Follows.
Let’s see what episode 2 brings and if the show will grow on me.
Great overview of the first episode. I really liked the grittier approach. The Kevin O’Sullivan version will always be the definitive for me, so I’m actually happy to see a different approach. I probably would have been more annoyed with a rehash of the previous versions (they would have paled in comparison, I’m sure). What does concern me is the ending. The way I interpreted it (and the trailer for Episode 2) is that there is going to be a huge deviation from the story as Matthew and Marilla try to find Anne. I really hope that I’m wrong because I really want to love this version!!