An Open Letter to Moira Walley-Beckett

Warning: There are spoilers for season 3 ahead.

Dear MWB,

We need to talk about Anne.

As women who grew up in Canada, it’s safe to say L.M. Montgomery’s books were present in our lives in someway. Clearly, or you wouldn’t have thought to make a new adaptation.

But you have proven time and time again that you don’t trust L.M. Montgomery’s writing nor the character of Anne to stand on their own. You continue to tear apart the book and the characters for reasons I cannot understand.

A little red flag went up when the series premier opened with a dramatic shot of Matthew racing down the beach on horseback. Oh boy.

You’ve managed to turn Anne of Green Gables into some sort of melodrama with an overabundance of grit and dark social issues; so much so that it barely resembles the original work at all. The only reason we know it’s Anne is because the characters have the same names and it takes place in Avonlea. Basically everything else has been shifted.

Why, though?

Life in the late 1800s was quite tough and L.M. Montgomery was well aware of how tough it could be. She wrote Anne of Green Gables in a much more idyllic version of her own village, deciding to brush over harsh realities for something more soft and enjoyable. Even when things go wrong, it all works out in the end. There is a sprinkle of tragedy, but not more than the reader can handle.

This is not what we get in the show.

The dark, edgy tone is layered with social issue on social issue. Now, I’m not against including social issues in shows, but at this point it feels excessive.

So far we’ve had:

  • PTSD
  • Child abuse
  • Suicide
  • Racism
  • Homophobia
  • Oppressive marital expectations
  • Racism (again! This time against natives)
  • Residential schools

As I said, I’m not against dealing with these issues. They are important. BUT these issues aren’t written in with any delicacy or subtlety. Every week we get slapped in the face with something new and dark, obviously while Anne prances around telling everyone how wrong they are.

Even plot points within the story were turned dark for no apparent reason other than you didn’t trust the book enough to keep it as it was. Anne was bullied by the girls in the orphanage, though there is no reference of that in the book (it’s even mentioned that they let her borrow their books). Anne is then subsequently bullied and shunned by the young girls in Avonlea when that is NOT what happened at all. She is excluded from the group (except by Diana) until she miraculously saves Ruby’s house from being burned down.

Wow.

You’ve even butchered ANNE herself! In a recent episode, in an emotional moment Anne refers to her imagination as delusions and has to be talked down by Cole. Maud’s Anne would never question the value of her imagination.

I know you worked on Breaking Bad, which was chock-full of dark and edgy plot lines. The show was about drugs! That’s what you get with those types of shows.

But that’s not Anne of Green Gables. A show doesn’t need to be dark to be good.

I know we have shows like Game of Thrones that also pile on the dark and gritty storylines, but a show doesn’t need to be dark to be good.

Anne of Green Gables is about the love of nature, appreciating imagination, and not losing a sense of wonder and joy even in the face of adversity. We see Anne get a home and love she needs and deserves, she excels in school, she grows and learns, falls in love and gets married, she has children and becomes a loving mother.

All I see with Anne with an E is that she’s somehow immune to any sort of prejudice and she’s basically a 21st century teenager in the 19th century. Though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised with “Ahead by a Century” by The Tragically Hip as the opening song. I didn’t expect it to be taken literally.

Some people defend these choices by saying that the show is “showing how it really was” in the 19th century. But is it really? I guess the racism and homophobia are probably accurate, but it REALLY seems like 21st century ideologies are being transposed onto a 19th century setting. And as much as we’d like to believe the best of our beloved Anne, I’m sure she’s not completely immune to the deeply ingrained racism (even if it’s not conscious).

Are you afraid to show the racism/sexism/homophobia that would’ve been present without someone there to condemn it?

Also, the book itself doesn’t show how it really was. It’s an idealized version of PEI in the late 1800s, where dark aspects of society aren’t often dealt with and when they are, it all works out.

Anne is able to learn and grow as a person WITHOUT having to battle fires, or sexism, or any of the other stuff. Subtle plotlines like the missing broach that was actually attached to Marilla’s shawl is just as effective for teaching Anne responsibility as sending her all the way back to the orphanage.


Now we’re in season 3 of the show and I haven’t actually seen a single plot point that lines up with the books. We’re obviously not in Kansas anymore. Anne turns 16 years old, and at this point in the books she’s at Queens academy in Charlottetown preparing to become a teacher (and going on to win the Avery Scholarship etc., etc.)

Wouldn’t that be a fun way to show how things REALLY were? Anne is still only 16 when she takes up the teaching position at the Avonlea school. AmyBeth McNulty teaching some of her old schoolmates, still looking quite young herself, would be a striking image and impactful in our society (where 16-year-olds work at McDonalds).

Again, we are being forced to view Anne’s world through a 21st century lens. Instead of Anne going to Queens (which is basically the equivalent of high school), they’ve pushed back that plotline, as if Queens was a college or university. At 16, she’s still very young. And she is. BUT, back then people were sometimes married by the age of 18, especially in rural villages.

Instead, we’re being treated to a new layer of racism against the Mi’kmaq community near Avonlea (which is realistic I guess), and now talk of a completely fabricated residential school opening in Halifax. Considering the very dark history of residential schools in Canada, you’d think they’d tread lightly and try to be historically accurate. There was only one school in the Maritimes and it was in Nova Scotia, but not Halifax and certainly not in the late 1800s when the show takes place (it opened in 1930).

Since you’ve introduced us to a very endearing Mi’kmaq girl and you’ve shown you’re not afraid to show child abuse, I’m just assuming you’re going to show us this little girl being beaten at the school. Or else, why would you even include the residential school at all?

You’ve proven over and over that you don’t shy away from the heavy stuff, but when it’s ALL heavy stuff don’t some of the fans of L.M. Montgomery’s work get to call uncle?

In this time of real life darkness (political upheaval and environmental meltdown), wouldn’t a true-to-book adaptation of Anne of Green Gables be a breath of fresh air?

We know that you can do it. The cast is amazing, along with the costumes and sets. But, why must we endure this constant barrage of social issues all layered on top of each other?

A true adaptation could be quite good with a dash or two of darker social issues, but your show is all of the darker social issues and none of L.M. Montgomery’s book.

It’s a shame, really.

Anyway, thanks for coming to my rant.

Megan Follows forever.

3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Moira Walley-Beckett

  1. You share everything here!! I stopped watching after the first season because I didn’t like how dark it was. Also…why does she like Gilbert so early? Hello murder of a major plot element. Between “I just want Anne of Green Gables” and “hm, what’s wrong with showing a little more realism?” is THIS POST. I totally agree. The show is too darn didactic and 21st century. You’re right, Anne wouldn’t have been perfectly immune from racism (what white person is?). The writers could’ve included the realities of communities of color without turning it into a lecture. Urgh!

    Liked by 1 person

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