… Anne with an E was completely unexpectedly cancelled and since then fans (including myself) have been fighting to have the show renewed for at least a fourth season. The show was meant to last for five seasons but very unexpectedly got cancelled just hours after the final episode of season 3 was aired in Canada a year ago.
I admit, I have become much quieter about it in recent months, but that doesn’t mean I feel less passionately about this. I still post an occasional #renewannewithane tweet and yesterday the phrase “One year without Anne” trended on Twitter and I again joined in. That also inspired me to finish this post, which has been sitting in my drafts folder for many months now.
The petition to save Anne with an E has 1.4 million signatures by now and the hashtag #renewannewithane has been used millions of times on Twitter (not sure how many now, but back in December last year it was already up to 4 million). Billboards were up in Times Square, New York and in Toronto and even Ryan Reynolds and William Shatner have supported the renewal campaign. According to one source, the campaign to renew Anne is the biggest revival campaign in Netflix history.
I have to say I was caught by surprise at the visceral, overpowering love I developed for Anne with an E. Often it is an actor who makes me feel that way and while I love the Anne actors (these young but also older actors all do such a phenomenal job on the show!), the love I feel is all about the whole show and not particularly about one actor in it. Something just clicked for me, especially in that third Anne with an E season. Rarely, if ever, have I been so devastated over the cancelling of a show.
Why do I love this show so much, I keep on wondering? It’s tied to a love developed in my youth, I guess. I first encountered Anne of Green Gables in the mid 1980s through the very famous and popular Canadian TV films with Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst, Richard Farnsworth and Jonathan Crombie.
I loved Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Green Gables, the Sequel. I read the books, watched the two TV films endlessly, adored Megan Follows in the role and years later even watched the somewhat unfortunate Anne of Green Gables, the Continuing Story, even though the storyline didn’t fit the timeline of the original series at all and was a bit over the top.
I just loved the character of Anne, who triumphs despite being different and having a difficult childhood, who has a rich fantasy life, loves books and disappearing into stories like I do, who likes to right wrongs, who is chatty and warm, who isn’t perfect, has a bit of a temper. All of these strengths and weaknesses put together make her such a great character. I also love the adoption storyline, as that is close to my own experience in life (I have four adopted siblings).
After the glorious Megan Follows as Anne movies, there was a new PBS Anne of Green Gables film in 2016 with two sequel films. I thought I’d give those a go as well, saw parts of them, but those felt all off and too fluffy for me. Anne is not only chipper and imaginative but also gritty and this Anne didn’t seem to have that. Despite that, Ella Balentine as Anne was alright. However, especially Martin Sheen as Matthew and Drew Haytaoglu as Gilbert felt completely wrong. I quite like Martin Sheen, love him in Grace & Frankie, but he just is too garrulous and prominent to be a good Matthew, who is supposed to be shy, a still water and a man of few words. And Haytaoglu is just too young and childish to be the somewhat more grown up Gilbert all the kids look up to.
In fairness, I haven’t seen enough of these films to give a proper critique. They just felt too off so quickly, I couldn’t do more than skip through them. It didn’t feel like the Anne character I knew and it couldn’t in any way live up to the Megan Follows films, which were (and still are) embedded in my heart.
Then enter Anne with an E. About three years ago we started our family Netflix subscription and I saw Anne with an E advertised. I just knew that had to be a new Anne of Green Gables adaptation. Again, I was sure that it would not live up to the Megan Follows version and, after the previous adaptation’s experience, I didn’t want it to spoil Anne for me. I held off watching for a bit but then decided I couldn’t resist taking a peek after all.
This Anne version was very different from the 1980s one and from the PBS version. This Anne (played by Amybeth McNulty) was grittier and darker, dealing with the childhood trauma of her experiences as an orphan. She was annoying in a way, definitely ‘different’ and yet she was also so very Anne Shirley, who used her fantasy life to escape reality and used big words.
Matthew Cuthbert (played by R.H. Thomson) is the sweet, shy man of few words I had expected and has such warmth in his eyes and expressions! His sister Marilla Cuthbert (Geraldine James) is the gruff, emotionally closeted woman who slowly warms up to Anne and learns to show her heart reluctantly.
When I started Anne with an E I expected Gilbert to make an appearance in the 90 minute pilot episode, but he didn’t. The pilot and second episode focussed on Anne finding her place with Cuthberts. I was sold during the second episode, with Matthew finding Anne after she had run away, Marilla warming up to Anne and admitting fault and Anne being adopted into the family. The ending of the second episode is just achingly beautiful.
For me the complete success of Anne would also depend on the casting of Gilbert Blythe. He made an appearance in episode 3 and he certainly did not disappoint.
Anne with an E‘s Gilbert has a different back story from the books and 1980s Anne of Green Gables, but he is the same idealist, more worldly than the other kids, and has the same fascination for Anne, precisely because she is different. Gilbert is much more fleshed out in this series, with his own sorrows and trauma, and I really like that. I instantly liked Lucas Jade Zumann as Gilbert, just as I had instantly liked Marilla and Matthew.
Anne’s BFF Diana Barry is played by Dalila Bela, I also liked her…
… and I loved the range of girls that became Anne’s friends. All characterisations were there, from mean girls like Josie Pye (Miranda McKeon, second from left) to dreamy, naive ones like Ruby (Kyla Matthews, third from left).
Especially Ruby and her puppy love for Gilbert just cracks me up.
And Rachel Lynde (Corrine Koslo) is also excellent. I love the contentious friendship she has with Marilla and there’s a lot of humour between them as well. Also, she has a flirty relationship with her husband, which I love. Yes, even older women can have good, sexy relationships!
Season two brings a whole new character, who is not in the books, called Bash, short for Sebastian. Bash (Dalmar Abuzeid) becomes the brother from another mother for Gilbert and has become one of my fave characters on the show.
His character brings in a storyline on racism in Canada, also shown through the character of his whirlwind love interest Mary Lacroix (Cara Ricketts)
Season two introduces an LGBTQ storyline with Aunt Josephine Barry (Deborah Grover) and a new character called Cole (Cory Grüter-Andrew).
Teacher Miss Stacey (Joanna Douglas) enters the scene at the end of season two and is a delightful, emancipated young woman who captures her students’ hearts with her unconventional ways.
The third season brings a heartbreaking native Canadian storyline with Ka’kwet (Kiawenti:io Tarbell), a Mi’kmaq girl whom Anne befriends.
So, yes, the story does diverge from the books somewhat and brings in new characters, but the original characters are who they are supposed to be in essence. Anne is the liberal heroine of the story, of course, and yet even so has her faults, as all the characters do. No one character is all good or all evil and all of them are so very relatable. I related to the teenagers in the story, reminding me in many ways of my own younger years, but I could also really relate to Marilla who struggles with parenthood sometimes and Matthew’s warm diplomacy reminded me of my own father in a way. Even Rachel, who can be very prejudiced and judgemental, has moments I absolutely love.
I think this Anne version shows how very different people are and yet how they can still find a way forward together. I also love all the issues that are addressed, they seem modern but really are timeless and fit into Anne’s world very well. This billboard that was up in Toronto expresses it perfectly…
Season 3 tied up relatively nicely but also left more than enough questions for a season 4 follow up. When the finale ended I found myself already looking forward to that fourth season. No one expected the cancellation and when it came a day after the euphoria of the finale, the blow seemed extra hard. I’m a 50 year old woman and it may be ridiculous to love this show so much, which is principally about teenagers, but I really do. I love it for all the characters in it, young and old, I love seeing that time period (late 1890s) come to life and I love all the issues it tackles.
So, yes, I love this Anne, just as much as I love 1980s Anne. Two very different adaptations and both of them very good in their own specific ways. By the way, the two Anne-actresses filmed a movie together last year, with Megan Follows directing and Amybeth McNulty acting…
Anyway, a year on I am still rooting for Anne with an E to be picked up again so that it can get the conclusion the makers had originally envisioned. There is no sign of a renewal, all those involved have said that it is sadly the end, and yet I still decide to nurse a flicker of hope for a renewal, as hopeless as it still looks now.