‘Anne With an E’: Feisty Anne of Green Gables grows grimmer

TV Review: Donegal’s Amybeth McNulty plays the lead in series 2 of the Netflix drama

 

In Anne With an E (Netflix, from Friday), a co-production from CBC and Netflix, an imagination is always under fire. The imagination in question belongs to Anne Shirley, the orphan protagonist of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 children’s book, Anne of Green Gables, whose precocity is matched only by her intense powers of invention.

“She’s a character, that one,” says her adoring foster, Matthew. “She’s a case,” retorts his tutting sister Marilla.

Actually, in Moira Walley-Beckett’s adaptation, they’re both right: Anne is a beloved figure with a nostalgic following, now open for new investigation. No one can be truly happy with the results.

The Anne of the books was feisty and free, given to flights of fancy and creation. Now played by Donegal’s Amybeth McNulty, with becoming abandon, the Anne of the screen is similar, but borne back to grim flashbacks of punishment and humiliation in the orphanage, which is how TV tends to flex its imagination.

There’s some reason to present Anne’s irrepressible playfulness and bookishness as somewhere between rebellion and pathology, but the device seems like overkill. Besides, if Anne is caught in a swirl of reality and make-believe, between the “romantical” and “tragical”, so too are the hard-working folk of Prince Edward Island, now conned by two grifters into believing they’re sitting on a goldmine.

Naivety, then, becomes a vulnerability, making easy prey of the community for grasping cynics. But in Anne – immersed in fictions, increasingly versed in science, and tripping over clues – naivety might be the answer. It’s hard to say where the show itself stands. But that’s the thing about innocence these days. You have to go to great lengths to prove it.