One of my favourite childhood memories is of reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables for the first time, a Dr Pepper by my side and a pile of Twizzlers fanned out on my calico-print bedspread. I remember thinking that I’d stumbled upon the secret of life: the pleasure of a good book about a spirited female, and access to the best snacks known to man. I still have that battered paperback copy, and I have yet to find a better approach to life (or snacks).
Now it's a new generation's turn to discover the imaginative, whimsical, and determined Anne Shirley for the first time. Over the course of seven episodes, Netflix's Anne with an E retells Montgomery's 1908 novel with the addition of a darker backstory for the title character. We knew that life wasn't so rosy for the orphaned Anne before she landed at the Cuthberts' feet, but here, it's downright Dickensian. Purists may object to seeing their beloved heroine bullied and abused, but it can also be argued that Anne's emergence from that trauma still as plucky and precocious as ever is an example of the character's strength. She's a daydreamer, but also a survivor.
For me, nothing will ever recapture that moment in bed with my paperback, or crushing so hard on the late Jonathan Crombie's dreamy Gilbert Blythe in the '80s Anne of Green Gables miniseries. I am, however, excited to revisit one of my all-time favourite literary heroines, and to dive back into those moments when life seemed full of possibility. If you wanted to be a princess, you could dream it into being. If a grown-up annoyed you, you could talk back. And if life seemed rotten, you could trust that "tomorrow [would be] a new day with no mistakes in it yet." Oh, if only.
Now, let's sit back and enjoy the greatest creature Canada has given the world (no offence, Justins).
Episode 1 - “Your Will Shall Decide Your Destiny”
Okay, sorry: Did Netflix resurrect Evan and Jaron and hire them to do this chirpy, la-la-la theme song? Next time, call the Downton Abbey people.
Welcome to Prince Edward Island, circa the turn of the 20th century. Marilla Cuthbert (Geraldine James) is nagging her brother Matthew (R.H. Thomson) about the boy they’ve arranged to help around the farm. But it’s not a boy! It’s Anne (Amybeth McNulty)!
The freckled redhead is on the train, sneering, like everyone else, at the idea of a crying infant on public transport. In her case, it’s because the wails trigger a flashback to her bitchy former foster mother. She recovers in time to quote Jane Eyre and then grill her minder about the Cuthberts' love lives. Which reminds me: Did anyone else forget that Matthew and Marilla are brother and sister, and not husband and wife? Just me? Cool.
Upon arrival at the train station, Matthew is surprised to learn that his new charge is a girl, not a boy, and that she's the thirstiest little orphan on the planet.
"I read once that a daughter is a little girl who grows up to be a friend," she tells him on the ride home. "And it gives my heart a thrill to even say it aloud."
Easy, tiger. Matthew's too overwhelmed by Anne's chattering to really comment, and we all know it's down to Marilla anyway. Her solution: return to sender.
Anne, still reeling from a particularly gnarly flashback in which her foster dad keeled over from a heart attack while violently spanking her, is understandably desperate to stick around the farm. Fortunately, she's got feminism on her side. Unfortunately, it's like, 1908 and nobody cares.
"A girl would be of no use to us," Marilla argues, noting the farm chores she needs completed.
"I’m as strong as a boy," Anne shoots back. "It doesn’t make sense that girls aren't allowed to do farmwork when girls can do anything a boy can do, and more. Do you consider yourself to be delicate and incapable? Because I certainly don’t."
Tears pool in Marilla's eyes as she slowly starts applauding while Matthew rises to his feet and hoists Anne onto his shoulder for a mini Women's March.
Just kidding. They basically ignore her pleas and send her to bed, where she cries herself to sleep.
We learn more about Anne the next day. Her parents, who were "poor as church mice," died when she was just 3 months old. She can't wear pink on account of her red hair, which she considers her "lifelong sorrow." For someone with this much self-confidence, girlfriend sure is down on her looks.
She's also got moments of levelheadedness. On the drive to return Anne to her minder, Marilla is impressed by the girl's ability to keep her cool when their horse is spooked. She's warming to Anne, so it comes as a shock when the handler wants to hand her off to the Bluetts, a surly family heavy on colicky babies and threats like, "Work she will. This ain't no charity house."
And, because this is Anne of Green Gables and not Anne of the Asylum or Anne of the Bluetts, Marilla backs away and takes Anne home.
Matthew is pleased. Nosy, sharp-tongued neighbour Rachel Lynde is not. She wastes no time in body-shaming Anne and singling out her freckles and "carrot" hair. Anne knows how to deal with trolls: She gets in Mrs. Lynde's face and screams.
"I hate you, I hate you, I hate!" the outraged child bellows. "How would you like to be called fat and clumsy and haven't a spark of imagination?"
I always hated that Anne was forced to apologise to Mrs. Lynde, and I still do. The only saving grace is that when the meanie tells Anne she "mustn't mind" her criticisms, the girl responds with, "I look forward to never minding your opinion ever again." Shaaaaaade.
Now that she's alienated the neighbours, it's time for this kid to make some friends. She sees the French boy whom the Cuthberts have hired to do farmwork as a threat, not a potential playmate. We can see why she's wary: Her last companions were the girls at the asylum, who terrorised her with a dead mouse.
But then there's Diane Barry. Perfect, pleasant Diane Barry. Armed with a new dress and Marilla's beloved brooch, Anne is quick to make friends with the oldest daughter of one of the area's most prestigious families. With Diana, she can let her freak flag fly, and by day's end the girls have sworn to be ride-or-dies.
Things are going well. Too well. Back at the house Marilla notices that the brooch she lent Anne has vanished. Anne is accused of stealing it, and is told that she'll be sent to the asylum if she doesn't confess. So Anne confesses — and gets sent away, anyway.
At first light she's packed off to the train station. Marilla, of course, finds her brooch soon after, and realises that Anne was innocent. She sends Matthew to go after Anne, but he's too late. The girl on the train is gone, girl.
Episode 2 - “I Am No Bird, And No Net Ensnares”
Welcome to Green Gables: SVU, where Anne fends off a creepy Child Snatcher at the train station (smart), then almost immediately hitches a ride with a strange milkman (girl, no).
Our knowledge of Canadian geography is sketchy at best, but both Anne and Matthew have had to journey by train and ferry to get to the mainland where her former asylum stands. The location triggers more haunting flashbacks for Anne, while Matthew is broke and, thanks to being knocked out by a carriage, battered. Marilla, meanwhile, is stewing at home and feeling like a huge asshole for her brooch meltdown.
Rather than return to the asylum, Anne spends the day in the company of the (thankfully friendly) milkman. Matthew, looking like he’s done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson, finally reaches the asylum/orphanage and is told by a chilly matron that Anne has been adopted (by him). Conveniently, the milkman is loitering outside and happens to mention Anne.
Our pigtailed protagonist is begging for money at the train station in exchange for dramatic readings. She sees the wounded Matthew shuffle in, but isn’t ready to forgive him for the brooch accusations. He pulls out his trump card: “She’s my daughter,” he tells a station attendant. With those words, Anne’s resolve crumbles and she embraces her new father.
Somehow they make it back to Prince Edward Island, where Marilla has been dusting/chopping onions/poking her eyes out and definitely NOT crying over some silly little girl.
Before long, it’s back to business as usual for Anne: She plays with Diana and bickers with the French farmhand, Jerry. Sadly, the church picnic she’s anticipated so much turns out to be a huge bust. Diana’s snobby parents encourage her to snub Anne. The other fine Christians treat her like she just walked into a vegan convention wearing a fur coat lined with prosciutto. The taunts “stray dog,” “lunatic asylum,” and “you live in a trashcan” are overheard. Screw you too, Prince Edward Island.
All this trolling sends Anne tearfully running off. This time it’s Marilla who follows, and her icy demeanour thaws as she asks forgiveness.
Anne may be the town pariah, but she’s finally got the family she’s always wanted. Matthew and Marilla invite her to sign their family bible; she will now be a Cuthbert. True to form, Anne reacts by being super-extra. Can they have a blood-pricking ceremony to make it official? No. They settle for raspberry cordial. And just like that, Anne’s got a mom and dad.
Episode 3 - “But What Is So Headstrong As Youth?”
Salutations! Sex! Suffragettes! Things are about to get interesting...
It’s the first day of school for Anne, and she’s got the jitters. That’s understandable considering the last time she was around other people they all but chased her out of the church picnic with pitchforks. Her biggest worry, she breathlessly explains, is her looks. She hates her red hair, she hates her freckles, she hates her “ugly” face. Marilla tells her to get over herself, but one can’t help but wish Tyra Banks was around to pop in with a little self-esteem training exercise.
Anne gives herself a pep talk on the walk to school as she pokes purple wildflowers into her straw hat. Upon arrival at the schoolhouse, Diana helpfully makes the necessary introductions and volunteers that she’s sure “it won’t be long ‘til my parents accept you now that you’re a Cuthbert and all.” How gracious.
The Avonlea ISD has its own version of the Plastics, with the vicious Josie Pye as the requisite Regina George. She wastes no time in mocking Anne’s clothes and education. We hate her, obvs.
It’s a big day for everyone. Marilla is overwhelmed by her new parental responsibilities when she’s invited to join the Progressive Mothers Sewing Circle (PMSC), where moms discuss feminism, the suffragette movement, and the importance of education for girls.
Anne is overwhelmed by long division and Diana’s constant updates about schoolhouse social etiquette. Diana is overwhelmed by seeing student Prissy Andrews getting groped by teacher Mr. Phillips as well as Anne’s explanation that they must be “making babies.” Her spin on the birds and the bees is that men have a pet mouse in their front pants pockets, which triggers procreation when a woman touches it. Sounds about right.
The pet mouse description spreads like wildfire. At first Josie and the girls are entertained, but Anne’s real talk — which includes colourful references to former foster dad Mr. Hammond’s drunken bedroom activities — quickly becomes too real.
“I won’t eat next to dirty trash,” Josie huffs. “Come, girls, before we all become tarnished.”
Marilla’s own friendship is tested when a “shocked and mystified” Rachel Lynde confronts her about the PMSC’s feminist teachings.
“Next you’ll be telling me you burned your corsets and danced naked at town hall,” she admonishes, turning to Matthew to join her in mocking “modern ideas.”
Ah, but Matthew is a woke bae who shuts her down with this response: “I reckon every new idea was modern once, until it wasn’t.”
It’s now day 2, and Anne is confronted in the woods by Prissy’s brother. He’s understandably pissed about this pet mouse talk and the slut-shaming of his sister. Before things get too messy, a handsome young boy we all know to be the dreamy Gilbert Blythe emerges to rescue Anne.
He and Anne arrive at school together, where he tells his pals that she’s cute. Anne, however, is scolded by the Plastics for violating the girl code; Ruby, you see, has “dibs” on Gilbert. An apologetic Anne vows to ignore Gilbert rather than risk further social descent.
Anne’s comments about Prissy and Mr. Phillips have spread across town. Marilla is cut out of the PMSC, and the snub clearly stings. Thanks to Rachel Lynde, Matthew gets to the bottom of the matter. He tells a mortified Marilla, who rushes to Mrs. Andrews' home to apologize. Mrs. Andrews reacts to her daughter being slut-shamed by calling Anne a “trollop.” Hmm.
“It’s a shame progressive parenting doesn’t seem to include compassion,” Marilla responds, emphasising Anne’s troubled past. A child that age shouldn’t be privy to the facts of life, but Anne has endured much more than the average girl.
Back at school, Gilbert makes one last effort to get Anne’s attention. He saunters over to her desk and (ugh) yanks a braid while calling her “Carrots.” She reacts by slamming her chalk slate against his face. (Note to self: Start carrying chalk slates when walking past construction sites or visiting the White House.)
The entire class is shocked. Mr. Phillips has the chagrined child stand in shame at the front of the classroom, where he’s written “Anne Shirley has a very bad temper.” The attention is too much, and Anne rushes out of the schoolhouse.
She runs all the way home and straight into the arms of Marilla.
“I know just how you feel,” Marilla tells the sobbing child. “You’ve been judged harshly.”
Episode 4 - “An Inward Treasure Born”
Anne has made good on her threat to not go back to school, swapping reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic with songs, ladybug appreciation, and conversations with household objects. She’s gone full Beauty and the Beast.
Rachel Lynde’s advice to a fed-up Marilla is to be patient; Anne will get bored soon enough. Marilla agrees, until she comes home to find Anne daydreaming and not taking out Marilla’s pie as ordered. The house is filled with smoke.
As punishment, Anne is told that she must return to school because idle hands, blah blah blah. Anne freaks out and has some sort of psychotic break which involves her pretending the Cuthberts’ clock is her old friend Cady.
But she goes off to school, and comes back acknowledging that it wasn’t so bad, and no, she doesn’t have any books or homework. She’s clearly lying, but Marilla buys it.
The jig is up, however, when Diana and Ruby swing by the house to deliver Anne’s books, on account of her not having been at school for days and days and all. Busted.
This is a job for the minister. Some British man of the cloth is brought in to scold Anne for fibbing (fine) and mansplain that education’s not as important as housekeeping, because, really, “every young woman should learn how to be a good wife” (groan).
This sends Marilla into a tailspin. She never married, nor pursued her own goals. She lashes out at Matthew for his reliance on her housekeeping. Even though they’re brother and sister, and not married, Marilla has effectively fulfilled her domestic destiny, and she resents it.
Anne, meanwhile, muses about the prospect of becoming a wife one day, while Jerry struggles to point out her white girl privilege about getting an education.
At night, the family is roused out of their sleep by alarms. They rush off to find Ruby’s house in flames.
This situation triggers a few questions: What started the blaze? Why does Diana look so happy? Why are children putting out the fire? When did Anne become Kurt Russell in Backdraft?
The girl rushes into the house to close the doors and windows. The result is that the fire slows down because, as Anne later explains, the oxygen had been cut off. She read all about it in a fire manual at the orphanage.
She’s now a hero to everyone but Ruby, who cries when she learns she’ll be staying with the Cuthberts while her house is repaired. This can only result in her becoming unpopular by association.
“It’s alright, don’t worry,” Anne offers. “I’m sure no one will think you’re my friend.”
But they do become friends. First, Anne comforts Ruby by suggesting that Gilbert put out the fire on her behalf. Then she lashes out at Billy Andrews when he mocks Ruby for tripping. Gilbert rushes over to help the girl up, which is fine, because Anne should totally date Jerry (“maybe you could be a firefighter!”) instead.
Things are looking up. Matthew congratulates her for calling out Billy, and father and daughter pretend to box. Ruby joins her and Diana in a new story-time club that mandates wearing straight-from-Coachella ivy crowns.
Now that she’s got another friend, Anne is open to going back to school. She and Marilla have a heart-to-heart about the minister’s sexist vision, and honestly, it is wonderful.
“His thinking seems a mite old-fashioned to me,” Marilla tells Anne. “What do you think?”
“Well, it doesn’t provide much scope for the imagination, that’s for sure and certain,” the girl responds.
“It seems to me you should decide for yourself what you want to do and be, and set your mind to it,” the older woman says. “In my day we didn’t get to choose. I think you should make your own decision.”
So Anne does. She returns to school (tardy) to find her new friends — none of whom are clocks, ladybugs, or pinecones.
Episode 5 - “Tightly Knotted to a Similar String”
Nothing like a spelling bee to drum up sexual tension between two pre-teens AND a creepy teacher and his student love interest. Also: How was Gilbert able to spell all those tricky words but blow it on “engagement”? And what on earth does Prissy see in Mr. Phillips? It can’t be his moustache.
At first I thought Anne also had the heebie-jeebies about Mr. Phillips popping the question to Prissy in the middle of class, but it turns out that her grimace and general air of malaise is down to another pesky occurrence: Aunt Flo. Anne has her period!!!!!
“You’re in your womanly flowering time,” Marilla informs a stricken Anne, who is convinced she’s dying and is doing some sort of Lady Macbeth tribute act on her bloody undies. Been there, done that, totally using that line on our future daughters.
“I’m not ready to be a woman!” she wails back. In her defence, having your period in 1908 means pinning cotton cloths to your panties and then washing them in both hot and cold water. Who has the time?
Now is, of course, the perfect moment for a confused Matthew to walk in and see what all the fuss is about. He won’t be making that mistake again.
Anne’s rite of passage inspires a lot of period talk. Rachel and Marilla joke that the former’s had 10 kids because she prefers pregnancy to menstruation. Josie muses that the boys in school can sense her newfound maturity, while Ruby is upset that she’s yet to ride the crimson wave.
The big takeaway is that Tillie thinks it’s all very “shameful,” or as Diana puts it, “unmentionable.” Anne, who perhaps senses that one day her country will be governed by a Prince Eric look-alike who’s probably woke enough to do monthly Tampax runs with a see-through shopping bag, thinks that attitude is all nonsense. She is, however, freaked out by the prospect of bleeding through her dress during class.
Gilbert, meanwhile, has his own personal issues. He’s looking after his invalid father while juggling school and fretting about financial matters. The fact that Anne is still giving him the silent treatment should be the least of his worries.
Perhaps he shouldn’t take it personally; she also unleashes a PMS rant on Marilla. To cheer her up, Marilla offers to let Anne invite Diana for the tea party she’s always fantasised about. We know how this one goes: Anne mistakes currant wine (“for medicinal purposes”) for the raspberry cordial she’s meant to serve, and Diana — who, like Penny from Happy Endings, has a knack for speaking foreign languages when she’s on the sauce — gets wasted. Mrs. Barry flips out and bans her daughter from associating with Anne. Woe.
After secretly exchanging professions of love and locks of hair with Diana, Anne is sent to the Blythe home with books for Gilbert. There she meets the sickly Mr. Blythe, and gets some perspective on what "life is so unfair" really means.
We can't end this without mentioning lovely, sweet, wonderful Matthew. He's really gunning for Father of the Year by ordering a beautiful puffed-sleeve dress in seafoam green for Anne. The dress is designed by his elegant former classmate (and, duh, woman of his dreams) Jeannie, who lures him in for tea with the old, "I'd hate to see you ride all that way back to Avonlea without fortification" pickup line, wink wink. We learn that Matthew was a loner who was bullied, then left school early when his brother, Michael, died. Jeannie still has the button he gifted her years ago (aw), so it's disappointing when Matthew sends Jerry to pick up the dress a week later instead of going himself. He gives Jerry a button to pass on to Jeannie, which, it's revealed, evidently came from his best church shirt. Swoon.
Dear Netflix: Please ward off Matthew's chest pains long enough for him to get some action, we beg you.
Episode 6 - “Remorse Is the Poison of Life”
Diana has violated the Anne ban, but with good reason: She’s home alone and her little sister, Minnie May, is gravely ill. Dr. Anne, Medicine Woman suspects croup and sends Matthew to go fetch a doctor while she rushes back to the Barry home with her friend.
Long story short, Anne manages to save Minnie May’s life, all while having some elderly British relative of Diana’s play backseat driver. The incident causes Mrs. Barry to change her mind about Anne, and the friendship ban is lifted.
Maybe she can swing by the Blythes, because Gilbert’s dad is not looking too hot. Scratch that. Now he’s dead.
Anne and Diana reunite, and we learn that the latter’s great-aunt is — read between the lines, y’all — a lesbian woman whose companion has just died. Just when we’re warming to the idea of her potentially getting together with Marilla, we get a flashback revealing Marilla’s teenage romance with the now-deceased Mr. Blythe. Guys, he called her Mar. He also gave her a pretty blue ribbon, which Anne is now wearing to the funeral.
Now that Gilbert is also an orphan, Anne feels a certain kinship with him. He’s being very emo, however, and shuts down her clumsy attempts to compare their stories. On the plus side, this gives me an opportunity to trot out the "What’s Eating Gilbert Blythe?" pun I’ve sitting on for five episodes.
Diana’s Aunt Josephine gives Anne something better to do than moan about Gilbert’s mercurial moods. She tells Anne she should grow up to become a badass girlboss, then buy a white dress and be her own damn bride. Preach.
Anne leaves the encounter determined to forget about boys and focus on being the “heroine in her own story.”
“I choose myself, and that way I’ll never be disappointed,” she tells Matthew while Marilla listens on.
Here’s someone who knows disappointment. Up in her room, Marilla pulls out her old love letters from John Blythe. Evidently, she turned down his offer of marriage. In a later conversation about marriage with Anne, she obliquely refers to being “needed at home.” Her brother’s death destroyed her mother, and Marilla’s fate was sealed.
Anne’s vibe is very Lemonade. The pressure of being in Gilbert’s presence when she joins Ruby and Diana in dropping off a shepherd’s pie is too overwhelming, and she flees. He, in turn, kicks the crap out of Billy Andrews for trash-talking Anne. He then bumps into Marilla at his father’s grave, and the two share remembrances about the man they’ve both loved and lost.
The episode ends with Anne discussing love with a grieving Aunt Josephine, who reminds her that it’s more than okay to indulge in romance; the important thing is to not have regrets. Anne takes this as encouragement to rush to Gilbert’s house, but alas, he’s not home and the place has been boarded up.
Where is our lover boy? And is Matthew broke? More importantly, did he keep the receipt for Anne’s fancy new dress?
Episode 7 - “Wherever You Are Is My Home”
Christmas is approaching, which means it’s a good time to put coal in Josie Grossie’s stocking. The mean girl has been blabbing to everyone that the Cuthberts are poor and Matthew has had to remortgage Green Gables. She suggests that they’ll have to give Anne back, prompting the girl in question to storm out mid-carol.
Unfortunately, the news is true. Marilla is livid to learn that Matthew’s made financial decisions behind her back. He’s arranged for a bank loan and invested the money into some high-yield crops that will hopefully make them solvent again. Marilla argues that it all means more work for Matthew, and that’s when he goes and collapses in a heap.
The official diagnosis is an “episode of the heart,” which sounds like a Bonnie Tyler song. The doctor makes it plain that Matthew is in too delicate a condition to work, and needs months to recuperate.
That leaves math whiz Anne and Marilla to figure out the books and try to stop the bank manager from pulling the loan. Marilla refuses to take charity to help their plight. Instead, she places an ad in the paper for boarders, then sends Anne and Jerry — who has just been let go — to sell the horse and other beloved belongings (the brooch!).
First, Anne takes her puffed-sleeve dress to Jeannie’s shop. Jeannie is upset to hear about Matthew’s predicament and gives Anne more money than she’s owed in the return.
Anne runs into Gilbert outside the pawn shop in town. At a local pub (gonna need to see some ID, kids), he explains that he’s been working at the docks while he regroups from the loss of his father. The classmates decide to call a truce, and are soon joined by Jerry. Our favourite Frenchie is bloody and battered, having been beaten and robbed by two thugs. Those two thugs are currently sitting in the pub, ogling an ad for Green Gables.
They say goodbye to Gilbert and have a pitstop at Aunt Josephine’s lavish home. Before they go, she gives them money to keep Jerry employed.
Back at Green Gables, Matthew has figured out how to save everyone: off himself and let Marilla and Anne live off the life insurance. He’s pawing at a pistol when Jeannie barges in. She soothes him, then leaves him to an enraged Marilla. Whatever happens, they’re all better off with a living Matthew.
Anne returns with Ms. Barry’s money and a new plan: She’ll raise funds by cleaning homes. Over time, the Cuthberts find themselves in a more optimistic financial situation, provided it works out with the two boarders they’ve agreed to take on. Those two boarders, of course, are the bad dudes who beat up Jerry.
WHERE THE EFF IS JERRY?