The Latest Anne of Green Gables Has a Great Take on the Strong-But-Girly Heroine

Will Anne of Green Gables ever get old? PBS doesn't think so, and neither do I.
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Will Anne of Green Gables ever get old? PBS doesn't think so, and neither do I.

Anne-with-an-e is the heroine of the misfits and the dreamers. For those of us who ever felt lonely during our school days, mourned heartbreak, or fiercely loved the places that became our own, Anne’s story is a continual delight. 

Filmmakers often return to Green Gables, with adaptations ranging from a silent film version to the canonical 1985 miniseries. Most recently, though, PBS issued their new release on Thanksgiving day, and Netflix is set to debut a new adaptation, titled Anne, in early spring.

As such an enduring classic, it seems that the world needs another version almost as badly as the Internet needs another chocolate chip cookie recipe. What does a modern twist on the story really have to offer? Turns out, quite a bit.

New interpretations focus on a grittier—dare I say, more relatable—interpretation of the story. As Variety notes, “Anne’s issues are contemporary issues: feminism, prejudice, bullying and a desire to belong. The stakes are high and her emotional journey is tumultuous.”

Watching the PBS TV movie starring Martin Sheen this past weekend, I noticed the reframing of Anne’s story from the opening sequence. We see darker flashbacks to Anne’s days in the orphanage, the constant fear of being unloved and unwanted. In the first episode, we see Anne’s unconventional, often emotionally turbulent responses to life as she becomes accustomed to the care and kindness of Marilla and Matthew.

While I tend to stand with the purists on whether or not this reframing is necessary, I have to say that if the new PBS version introduces a new group of would-be readers to Anne, I can stand behind it. Anne’s unconventional, vocal interactions show a heroine who knows how to stand up for herself. She doesn’t stand for name-calling (even if the guilty party is charming) and isn’t afraid to challenge the boys in school. And yet, Anne’s brand of fiery feminism surely isn’t incompatible with puffed sleeves!

Anne stands on her own, and doesn’t need to be upheld as a feminist ideal, a champion of anti-bullying, or a trauma survivor, even if she is all of these things. The determined resilience and breadth of imagination that Anne demonstrates is testament enough to her ideals. The depth of her despair over her red hair or plain face may mask deeper uncertainties and fears about finding a place to belong, but in spite of this Anne finds reasons to be cheerful. While Anne’s antagonists may have undergone a reframing as modern ills of feminism and bullying, her allies—thankfulness, kindness, and the power of imagination—are timeless.

Do we really need a remake? Perhaps, no. But, as Anne herself said, “There’s such a lot of different Annes in me....If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.” The Anne’s of the various film adaptations add their own twists to the role, but if it introduces a new generation of viewers to the books that have seen so many of us through the turbulence of finding a place to belong, then I heartily recommend it. 

Photo Credit: PBS