Young Anne Shirley talks a lot and uses big words.
“I am enraptured by this glorious landscape,” the redheaded orphan declares as she surveys Prince Edward Island, Canada, which she believes will be her new home.
If the name seems familiar, millions know her as the indomitable heroine from “Anne of Green Gables.” Since it was published in 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved novel has, well, enraptured generations of fans, selling more than 50 million copies and being translated into some 36 languages.
Over the years it has inspired a number of screen adaptations, radio productions, TV movies and series, and stage productions, including a musical. Now Canada’s CBC and Netflix have created a lively new version, “Anne With an E,” which is available Friday on the streamer.
Adapted by Moira Walley-Beckett, an Emmy-winning writer on “Breaking Bad,” the Anne in the new series has a fiery temperament but is haunted. Played with great flair by Amybeth McNulty, the 13-year-old (up from 11 in the book) was orphaned as an infant when her parents died of fever. Since then she has either lived in an orphanage or been placed in homes to be used as free labor, often beaten and misused.
In her quiet moments, the traumas terrorize her.
“I like imagining better than remembering,” she tells a stranger, unprompted.
Despite her hardships, Anne’s curiosity and intellect has made her an “interesting thing,” as Matthew Cuthbert (R.H. Thomson) observes. He and his sister, Marilla Cuthbert (Geraldine James), are the owners of Green Gables, a farm. Getting on in years, they have sent to the orphanage for a boy to help with the work.
A mistake gives them Anne instead. A befuddled Matthew brings her home from the train station but is intrigued by the girl. A sterner Marilla wants to immediately send her back. But she and her brother have lived quiet lives for years, and Anne’s spirit and lively stories start to wear down her resistance. So she reluctantly gives her a tryout.
Usually “Anne of Green Gables” is meant as light family entertainment, and this certainly is wonderful family entertainment. It has all the charms expected in the story of the resilient young girl, but there is also depth to this version.
Walley-Beckett doesn’t pander nor play down the darker elements in the character’s life. Being orphaned, uncertainty is at the core of Anne’s being. Even when the Cuthberts show her kindness, she fears it will be ripped away.
Others see her as a poor waif and look down on her. She knows she’s not pretty. Her red hair is her “lifelong sorrow.” While Anne will tell people that, she doesn’t want them to say it to her.
Despite its pluckier title, “Anne With an E” is smart enough not to modernize the tale. Anne has problems that may seem familiar. She’s been bullied, overlooked and is somewhat desperate to be liked. But she hasn’t been turned into the kind of angst-ridden teen common on TV these days. She knows…