Underfed and delicate? Perhaps, but Anne of Green Gables' resolve is unwavering
Reading between the novel’s lines, Moira Walley-Beckett gives us quick but potent glimpses of the miseries many orphans faced in 1890s Imperialist culture.
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The show: Anne, Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2 (CBC)
The moment: The stump
Siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (R.H. Thomson and Geraldine James, both perfect) wanted to adopt a boy to help work their Prince Edward Island farm. Instead they got Anne (Amybeth McNulty, also perfect) an exuberant, redheaded orphan tween whose imagination outweighs her underfed frame. Matthew fell for her, but Marilla, more practical, thinks Anne should return to the orphanage.
“Couldn’t I do the farm chores even though I’m a girl?” Anne asks.
“That’s not the way of things and you know it,” Marilla replies.
“But couldn’t I?” Anne persists. “I’m as strong as a boy, and I prefer to be outdoors.”
Marilla’s resolve wavers. “Do you consider yourself to be delicate and incapable?” Anne asks. “Because I don’t.”
That’s the text of this Anne reboot, from creator Moira Walley-Beckett, who went from writing Breaking Bad to creating the backstage-at-the-ballet drama Flesh and Bone to Green Gables.
But Walley-Beckett also gives us subtext. Reading between the novel’s lines and adding verisimilitude, she gives us quick but potent glimpses of the miseries many orphans faced in 1890s Imperialist culture.
As Anne makes her case to Marilla, we recall two flashes we’ve just seen: Anne, alone in a room in an orphan asylum, with two men moving in on her as the door swings shut. And Anne, in indentured servitude to a family with too many children, bent over a stump, skirts lifted, being beaten by a drunk man.
She doesn’t tell Marilla why she so desperately needs to stay. But Walley-Beckett makes sure we see it.
Johanna Schneller is a media connoisseur who zeroes in on pop-culture moments. She appears Monday through Thursday.