It took me just 40 seconds into the first episode of CBC’s Anne—debuting Sunday at 8 p.m.—to realize this iteration of the Anne of Green Gables story was going to be different.
A sweeping shot of Matthew Cuthbert (R.H. Thomson) riding a thundering horse in the surf and a train whistle echoing in the distance immediately cut to the opening credits. The credits themselves are noteworthy, with Anne Shirley’s sayings scrawled into arty, enhanced tree limbs as The Tragically Hip’s “Ahead by a Century” plays. L.M. Montgomery’s iconic heroine is indeed over 100 years old, but hasn’t showed her age. Or her importance.
“What didn’t exist was an ongoing series where we got to spend more time with Anne,” says executive producer Miranda de Pencier. “The way the British repatriate their classics for new generations, we wanted to make our own version of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables that felt relevant to today.”
“It feels like this is the perfect moment in time to re-explore and re-examine Anne for today,” says fellow executive producer, writer and showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett. “There are such desperate issues right now, of gender parity, women’s rights—not to mention the issues that are inherent in the book of prejudice and bullying—what does it mean to be from away? To be an outsider and unaccepted? These were all issues that we thought were incredibly timely.”
Sunday’s two-hour debut is stunning visually. A cherry tree is a riot of colour against a pine forest as Anne sits outside the train station waiting for Matthew to pick her up. Waves crash against ruddy red cliffs. Big skies abound.
The performances are stellar too. Amybeth McNulty, of course, does most of the heavy lifting as Anne and doesn’t look out of place next to Geraldine James’ Marilla Cuthbert or Thomson’s Matthew. Anne is the creative and imaginative girl generations recognize, but Walley-Beckett’s script gives her an edge: flashbacks to abuse at the Hammonds are stark and scary. Thomson’s take on Matthew is a good one. Like the books, he’s reserved and quiet (Martin Sheen’s portrayal in the YTV TV-movies is decidedly more chatty.), and stooped shoulders make the lanky actor appear shorter than he really is. Other cast include Dalila Bela as Anne’s best bud, Diana Barry; Corrine Koslo as resident snoop Rachel Lynde; Aymeric Jett Montaz as farmhand Jerry Maynard; and Lucas Jade Zumann as Gilbert Blythe.
McNulty is simply charming in the lead role, able to exude enthusiasm, intelligence and a healthy dose of moxie without being annoying. You can’t help but smile when she utters a soliloquy that leaves Matthew nonplussed and Marilla shaking her head.
“Amybeth is fiercely bright and independent, spirited and incredibly sensitive and also has a worldly perspective, which is something we touch on again and again in Anne,” Walley-Beckett says. “She was it.”
See if you agree on Sunday.
Anne airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.