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Netfilx's New 'Anne' Matches Up with the Good Ones
May 12, 2017  | By David Hinckley

The sun rose in the East this morning, so it must be time for Anne of Green Gables to get adapted again.

Happily, the new edition that arrives on the streaming service Netflix Friday, titled Anne With An E, is a good one.

Mainly, that means Amybeth McNulty is a very good Anne: spirited, vulnerable, endearing and of course highly conversational. She conveys the joy, which is what Anne is all about.

As readers of the original classic 1905 Lucy Maud Montgomery story know, Anne is an orphan who has suffered all the cruelties and indifference visited upon superfluous children in the civilized but still rugged world of early 20th century Eastern Canada.

As our story begins, she has been adopted by the Cuthberts, Marilla (Geraldine James, right) and Matthew (R.H. Thomson). They’re a brother and sister, neither ever married, who run a successful farm called Green Gables on a modest-sized island.

They have aged enough that they feel they need a younger hand to help Matthew with some of the unending chores a farm requires.

So they have arranged with an “asylum” to adopt a strong young boy.

Ah, but wait, you say, Anne is a girl.

That’s exactly what the Cuthberts say.

And that’s why no-nonsense Marilla decides Anne will be dispatched straightaway back to the orphanage.

But Anne can be hard to resist, as McNulty conveys, and she puts on a full-court press that wins them over. Matthew, she has from “hello.” Marilla takes a little longer.

That’s the setup common to all Anne productions. Where this new one differs from, say, the recent version with Martin Sheen, is that it hasn’t been condensed into a miniseries.

Anne With An E, produced by the CBC, runs seven episodes in this first season, including a two-hour opener.

That allows the producers time for a whole raft of minidramas that aren’t always included in film adaptations. While these additions don’t change the ongoing stories or the characters, they add depth and additional suspense to the tale.

Where the shorter versions tend to accentuate the positive, suggesting Anne wins over the Cuthberts, their village and her school with only a handful of hiccups, Anne With An E makes it clear that for all her sunshine, Anne creates problems as well as opportunities for herself. 

In the end, it’s hard not to compare this Anne to her south-of-the-border namesake Annie of comic book and Broadway fame. They share the common qualities of, among other things, eternal optimism and great pluck.

They also both talk a lot. But in a good way.

James gives Marilla the proper balance of emotional reserve and decent instincts, while Thomson is unusually laconic even by standards of past Matthews.

It sets our hearts up to be warmed, though this Anne is mischievous enough – not always by design – that we can understand how she could drive someone nuts.

In the larger picture, producers presumably keep remaking Anne of Green Gables because, in a TV landscape that often feels increasingly dark, this tale of light and sunshine will charm anyone of any age who walks into the room.

Nor, as Anne grows up in subsequent episodes, does the charm ever fade.

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