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Off the book

Amybeth McNulty stars as Anne Shirley in 'Anne with an E' (Netflix)


Off the book

L.M. Montgomery's classic novel is sometimes hard to recognize in Netflix series Anne with an E

In Canada, where Anne Shirley is one of the country’s most recognizable names, the new Netflix series Anne with an E is billed simply as Anne. But at times, it’s not easy to recognize Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables in this television adaptation.

Anne with an E, produced by the CBC, is now available in the United States on Netflix. Creator Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad ) had promised this version would be “gritty” and “off-book.”

Happily, Anne herself hasn’t changed much. Amybeth McNulty is fabulously awkward playing the red-haired adoptee who turns to a richly imaginative inward life in order to cope with outward circumstances.

What is darker, however, is what happens to Anne. Although beautifully shot on location, this series takes liberties by diving deep into the trauma Anne experienced before arriving on Prince Edward Island—like a beating at the hand of pseudo-foster father, Mr. Hammond—and even the trauma she experiences on the island itself, in the form of bullying.

The series also includes adult themes: In one awkward scene, Anne uses euphemisms to explain the facts of life to a few classmates.

Classic moments like the raspberry cordial scene survive, but other Montgomery storylines are stretched beyond recognition. These eventually touch on topics like menstruation, same-sex relationships, and suicide.

To be fair, Montgomery’s original novels contained adult themes too: child labor, death, and a teacher-student relationship, for example. And despite some of the positive feminist themes found here (like whether or not girls should go to school), it’s often hard to find the original Anne amid the extraneous storylines.