With a volcanic temperament matching her flaming hair and a boundless imagination, little orphan Anne has landed with the Cuthberts, two mature unmarried siblings, at their farm, Green Gables, on Prince Edward Island. One mistake: they had asked the orphanage – a true torture prison – for a boy to help them with the farm work. But it was love at first sight: Matthew and his sister Marilla adopted the girl.
With this umpteenth film adaptation of a 1908 novel that has become a classic, Moira Walley-Beckett has broken with the namby-pamby versions of the 70s, 80s and 2000s, and has brought in all the themes that are stirring North American and world societies in the 21st century: the place of women, ethnic and sexual minorities, and children, in short all the human groups that are inferiorized and subjected to the violence of the powerful, wealthy and fat-bellied white patriarchs.
The most wonderful revelation of this series, which only lasted three seasons -Netflix cancelled the fourth for obscure reasons – is the protagonist, the fiery Irish-Canadian Amybeth McNulty, chosen from among 1889 candidates. Born in 2001, she did not go to school, her parents preferring to homeschool her, which doubtlessly explains her ability to express herself authentically and integrally. Playing the role of Anne for 27 episodes, between the ages of 13 and 16, led Amybeth to work on herself and build up her personality. No wonder, then, that in June 2020, she came out as bisexual, which is what Anne is, in fact, in the series, split between her best friend Diana and her first love, Gilbert.
She takes two women as models: Diana’s millionaire aunt, Mrs.Josephine, inconsolable since the death of the woman who shared her life, and Miss Stacy, Muriel, the explosive schoolteacher, a precocious widow, the first woman to wear pants and drive a motorcycle on the island. She establishes a friendship made of complicity, trust and sharing with Cole, the young son of peasants with artistic talents attracted by his likes.
But our heroine doesn’t just shake up the patriarchy by demanding free speech for children and women. She shakes up the white -colonial- power by fraternizing with a family of Mi’kmaq, the island’s natives (out of the 140,000 inhabitants of the island today, there are only 829 of them left), victims of a slow-fire genocide. Ka’kwet, the girl with whom Anne becomes friends, undergoes this genocide in the form of confinement in a school-prison run by a priest and held by nuns protected by armed killers and the police. The objective of this “school” is clear: “kill the Indian to save the man”. This is what the British white settlers (English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish) did wherever they brought their “civilization”: in Australia with the Aborigines, in New Zealand with the Maoris, in Canada with the Inuit and the Amerindians, not to mention the USA, South Africa and India.
Co-hero Gilbert is not to be outdone: after the death of his father, he goes into exile and works as a stoker on ships. There he befriends a Trinidadian, Sebastian, alias Bash, who is as black as the coal they shove in night and day. They both return to Gilbert’s family home and become partners, like brothers. Marilla, Matthew and the other inhabitants of “Avonlea”, a fictional hamlet on the island, confronted for the first time in their lives with black persons, will learn, thanks to Anne and Gilbert, to accept him and his wife Mary as equals, just as they came to recognize the humanity of Ka’kwet and her parents, whom they first viewed as “savages”.
The Anglos that are the Cuthberts, the Barrys, the Blythes are not only confronted with “Indians”, “Blacks” and “gays”. They also had to learn to coexist with the Acadians, those “French-speaking outcasts”, cousins of the Louisiana Cajuns, represented by Jerry, the Cuthberts’ farm boy, and his family of countless children, celebrating after dinner before going to bed, all in the single room of their shack.
Why did Netflix decide not to produce the fourth season? Was it because of pressure from conservative – especially Catholic – circles in Canada and the USA? This would not surprise us, given the wind that has been blowing across North America in recent years. How else to explain an article in the New York Times defending the series, against the parents who expressed their regrets that good old series “watchable by children”, in other words slushy and uncontroversial, are no longer being made.
To conclude, we ask for more series like this. Anne with an E managed, in clothes (with corset) and a decor of 1900, to say the essentials on problems we are living today. The future has an antique heart.