CW: discussion of homophobia, racism, and the abuse of indigenous people.
Spring is coming to Cambridge, her advance bravely undeterred by the wheezing gusts of Storm Eunice. Crocuses are poking their defiant purple heads from the grass opposite Queens’, early daffodils are blooming shyly on Sidgwick, and I am looking forward to the morning in mid-March when I will leave the cringeworthy Varsity winter hat hanging on the back of my door and speed-walk to lectures without risking frostbite.
So, as you sit under these blue skies, sipping flat whites al fresco with a self-hating grimace, flicking through internship rejections and muttering about how you “never wanted to be a corporate sell-out anyway”, allow me to obliterate the remnants of your work ethic. What is this agent of joyful procrastination? Netflix’s Anne with an E.
If Gilmore Girls is the ultimate autumnal aesthetic watch, with its steaming cups of strong coffee, and tumbling New England leaves, Anne with an E brings the perfect vibes for spring. This is a late-nineteenth-century, Nova Scotian wonderland of wildflower meadows, haunted woodland, and the indomitable red-haired heroine Anne.
As soon as you remind any extended family member through gritted teeth that you are an English student with limited career prospects, there is one pressing question that strikes the minds of all well-meaning (and less-well meaning) aunts and uncles. It comes in the lull between that Cancel Culture chat and their third retelling of the crazy time they once wore a red leather jacket to a festival in the ‘80s. Don’t say it. Don’t say it. “So… um what’s your favourite book then?” Aha, there it is. Every bloody time. So, depending on my mental state, my stock answer to this conversational crutch fluctuates between Anne of Green Gables and Little Women.
I adore Anne Shirley. Taken in accidentally by the Cuthbert siblings who had actually asked the orphanage for a boy, Anne charms her way into their affections, and throws herself headlong into a carefree childhood on the shores of Prince Edward Island, Canada. She names everything, from the trees to the streams; she longs for a dress with puffed sleeves; and, in the sea of my literary heroines from Jo March to George Kirrin who are always longing to be boys, Anne is refreshingly and shamelessly feminine. An unhinged older sister to Devi from Never Have I Ever (another Netflix must-watch) though, she is also an overly emotional whirlwind who manages to make the wrong decision at just about every turn.
Hers is a classic and chaotic coming-of-age story, and this Netflix/CBC renewal of Anne Shirley onscreen has all of the oh-so-Anne-ish moments that lovers of the books by Lucy Maud Montgomery (what a name!) will know and love. There’s that time she cracks a writing slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head after he tugs her hair in class (girlboss energy tbh). Oh, and I will never be over the absolute iconic status of the Lady of Shalott scene. Obsessed by the Tennyson poem, Anne covers herself in flowers and floats herself down the river only for the boat to fall apart. She is left soaking wet and melodramatically flailing for life in the muddy water in truly gif-worthy fashion. She is just a constant mood.
Irish-Canadian actress Amybeth McNulty gets Anne so right: funny, reckless, and relentlessly compassionate. In fact, the whole cast is excellent. Unlike Jonathan Crombie’s lovable roguishness in the 1985 TV mini-series, Lucas Jade Zumann plays a shyer, sensitive Gilbert who feels very much a product of the Timothée Chalamet era. R. H. Thomson’s understated Matthew and Geraldine James’ steely-eyed Marilla are similarly compelling to watch. This is great television.
Adapted for the screen by Moira Walley-Beckett, the genius writer and producer behind hit show Breaking Bad, the three series of Anne with an E are not pure indulgence. This is not the same, rosy-tinted Anne of Green Gables that we find in the 1985 version starring Megan Follows. Carefully historicising Canada at the turn of the twentieth century, Walley-Beckett doesn’t shy away from the darkest moments in her country’s past. The script examines homophobia, telling the queer love story of Aunt Josephine, her beloved Gertrude, and their Boston Marriage. Season 2 sees the exposure of small-town bigotry and racial discrimination on Anne’s doorstep when Gilbert meets Bash, a ship’s stoker from Trinidad, who moves to Avonlea as his business partner.
The final season of Anne with an E was co-written with Mohawk writer and filmmaker Tracey Deer. It introduces the character of Ka’kwet, a Mi’kmaq girl who Anne befriends, and watches as she is wrenched from her family and absorbed into the residential schooling system, which enabled the horrific abuse and multi-generational trauma of First Nations people in Canada. This is inclusive, rigorously researched storytelling, and it should be compulsive, educational viewing.
Anne with an E has flown somewhat under the radar in the UK, but it has a fierce international fanbase. It caused enormous upset when Netflix broke with CBC, and they made their final joint decision not to renew the show for a fourth season. An online petition protesting the cancellation attracting over 1.6 million signatures and a campaign even managed to get #renewawae billboards displayed in Toronto city centre. The networks remain at odds.
This show provokes strong feelings in its viewers. As Lent Term draws to a close, switch it on and give it a go. You might fall in love. Or, failing that, at least it will distract you from the incoming Outlook bleep of another internship rejection.