Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Breaking Anne--A Review

*Spoilers ahead!
One of my favorite book series growing up was Anne of Green Gables.  I loved the imaginative, ebullient, intelligent redhaired heroine and the other characters that populated her world: shy Matthew, practical Marilla, gossipy, generous Rachel Lynde, Anne's friends, including the loyal Diana Barry, and of course the cocksure Gilbert Blythe, enemy turned rival turned friend turned love interest (spoiler alert--she marries him.  They have six kids together.)  I read all the books and own the Kevin Sullivan miniseries.  So, naturally, when Anne with an E came to Netflix, I had to watch it.  Especially since it was created by Breaking Bad creator Moira Walley-Beckett.
BIIIIG mistake.  They took my favorite character and put her in Bizarro World.
Walley-Beckett wanted to focus on Anne (played by Amybeth McNulty) as the abused orphan, delving into her backstory to create trauma.  Fans of the book will know that Anne was orphaned in infancy and passed around to two different foster homes.  In the first, her foster father was a violent alcoholic.  In the second, her foster mother had twins three times in succession.  Both foster parents used Anne as childcare, even though she was a child herself.  After her second foster father died, Anne spent a few months in an orphanage until she was placed with the Cuthberts, who originally wanted a boy.  As a result of this level of neglect, Walley-Beckett wrote Anne as a broken character.  Rather than being the dreamer of dreams who must express ideas that are too big and beautiful to hold in, Anne talks and imagines to escape frequent flashbacks of abuse.  In this world, Mr. Hammond keels over from a heart attack while beating Anne.  In this world, the town of Avonlea shuns Anne for her orphan status.  Anne herself is no help in this regard.  Her energy is frenzied, as if she is afraid to stop talking or moving out of fear.  She comes off as less eccentric and more unhinged, collapsing to the ground in agony upon hearing that the Cuthberts wanted a boy.  While McNulty is a competent actress, she still struggles with the bad writing.
Aside from taking liberties with Anne's character, the writers also took many liberties with the story, making it as bleak as the iron-cold settings it was filmed against.  The main conflict of the novel was resolved within the first eight chapters, and the rest of the novel is a coming of age stories filled with many charming vignettes of Anne's growth.  Few of them survived the writing process of the series.  There was no playing the lily maid.  No walking the ridgepole of the roof.  No dive-bombing Aunt Josephine.  No liniment cake.  No accidentally dyeing hair green.  Instead, we are treated to the following:
  • Anne begging pennies in a train station (just to drive home that she was unwanted--we got that!)
  • Lifelong conservative Marilla Cuthbert attending a suffrage meeting (more up Rachel Lynde's alley)
  • Anne antagonizing the Cuthbert's hired farmhand (great way to make a first impression on potential foster parents)
  • Anne telling her classmates about Mrs. Hammond repeatedly trying to escape her husband's "pet mouse," who lived in his front pocket and got her pregnant with all those twins.  (Because what children's book is complete without marital rape?)
  • Gilbert becoming an orphan (It wasn't bleak enough already?)
  • Matthew attempting suicide (Completely out of character.  Matthew was not only a religious man, he was the sort of person who would work to his last breath.)
  • Aunt Josephine going from acerbic-tongued spinster to lesbian in mourning (While I don't mind the representation, I rather like the acerbic-tongued old lady.  Besides, why can't we have asexual characters if we're going to represent?)
  • Anne's first period.  (At least Marilla didn't go Margaret White on her.)
If Moira Walley-Beckett wanted to create a series highlighting the fate of orphans, home children and foster children in the late 19th century, fine.  I'm all for it.  Many of them did suffer abuse and neglect, and even under the best of circumstances were forced to be servants and farmhands while still children.  Just leave my favorite book out of it.

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