Okay, so. . . I finally started watching Anne with an E yesterday. Totally late to the party, I didn’t think I’d have anything new to say about it. I got through four episodes and had to take a break. I’ve been thinking about it all last night and this morning, working out why I had such an anxiety-ridden reaction to it. That’s pretty rare for me, even on more intense and gritty dramas. But I think I’ve put my finger on it.
It isn’t just that they “put in more gritty/realistic stuff” or “don’t follow the story-line”. It is that they put in EXTREMELY realistic emotional patterns into the characters. Like, DEEPLY REALISTIC.
Anne (Amybeth McNulty) isn’t just a fanciful girl with a vivid imagination who processes her feelings verbally. She’s mostly in emotional distress. She cannot control a bit of her emotional life (which is part of the early story, for sure) and it veers from extreme, uncontrollable manic episodes to extreme viciousness to extreme depression. The scene in episode four where she looked into the clock and saw Katie, her “window friend”, came so close to a dramatization of psychosis, I was nauseated.
And then there’s Marilla (Geraldine James). I am SUCH a Marilla in my core make-up. I love my dramatic friends and all of the emotion they stir up in me. I have a hard time expressing affection, but feel it deeply. And so when my friends have emotional reactions (as actors are wont to do), I tend to take those emotions on at a subterranean level. But when they get extreme, it can cause great turmoil and confusion in me. So when Marilla watches Anne in these extreme emotional states and you can see her heart rending open or the confusion and chaos unleashing, I feel that deeply. Her attachment to Anne is beautiful, yet terrifying.
I even feel that way about how cruel and deeply judgmental the townspeople are, how dangerous the bullies are, how repressive the family lives are, how damaging the talk is. . .
The performances of these things are AMAZING in this series. Taken as a “Let’s take Avonlea and put it smack square in a 19th century reality” production, it is evocative, well-produced, and excellently performed. It is tight.
But for folks who have issues with trauma, anxiety, judgment, and handling extreme repression or emotion. . . it’s a tricky watch. There’s some good stuff in there, too. Values for education, compassion, and a wider variety of representation. And some beautiful cinematography. But it certainly isn’t the escapist loveliness that LM Montgomery intended to write in her Anne books. So if you’re looking for that, don’t look to Netflix.
I will probably continue with the series bit by bit on the weekends because the emotional complexity is worthwhile and even satisfying. And I’ve always been okay with using literature as source material for new creative visions (although I prefer it when they stay closer to the spirit of the source material).
But small doses on this one. Small doses.
PS – I just want to give a shout out to this series’ Rachel Lynde (Corrine Koslo). I just love, love, love her and her chemistry with Geraldine James’ Marilla. I’m a Marilla on the inside, but on the outside I’m a Rachel Lynde in a few years. I also have a few Rachel traits, if I’m honest. But I just love it whenever she appears in a scene.