I have seen one and a half of the old movies. I distinctly remember being frustrated because my friends loved these movies. I would play the Beta tape again and again, thinking maybe this time I’d figure out what was the big deal. Each time I was left bored and with a special dislike of puffed sleeves that I stand by to this day. When I heard about Anne with an E, even that it was getting rave reviews, I wasn’t moved to watch it.
Then a friend and I were helping my Grandma figure out Netflix, and when Grandma says, “I read those books 80 years ago” and wants to watch Anne with E, you queue it up and press play. I curled up in Grandma’s den and expected to be politely interested. The cinematography won me over first. The crisp cold skies seeped through the TV. The story filled the room. I was completed sucked in. Everyone was right—from the beginning, this was nothing like the old movies. This is…alive.
That said, I admit Anne with E is not easy to watch, and, unlike its predecessors, this is NOT for younger audiences. I have been trying to figure out its age-appropriateness, and the closest I can get to an answer is 16. Maybe even 18. At 31, this show was not easy for me to watch. But herein lies its strength: Anne with E is utterly, painfully honest about child abuse, bullying, and other very hard topics.
Anne is treated differently because of her background, even as a lesser person than the girls she now goes to school with. She has seen things no child should see, and is therefore viewed as a tainting influence on her classmates. But what about Anne? How is she personally affected?
This re-telling of Anne Shirley’s story refuses to let you look away from the hypocrisy of the townspeople. While her classmates’ parents attempt to shield their precious children from Anne, they sacrifice an opportunity to show grace and mercy to a hurting little girl in the process. God’s way is for us to show “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). The effects of withholding such gifts is glaringly obvious as we watch Anne’s days unfold.
I never understood why Anne lived in her head so much, but in Anne with E, it shows. Her fantasies are how she’s held herself together. Her whole life, she has been clearly told that her only value as an orphan is to be a commodity that is lent out to families with children. She hasn’t been seen a child herself for so long, and it takes time for her to accept that, yes, it IS possible for people to love her.
Anne with E also portrays the most honest and open scene I have ever seen in media anywhere about menstruation. When Anne starts her period, she has no idea what is happening and thinks she’s dying. I loved it, because it took all the shame out of something many girls are afraid to talk about. One of Anne’s classmates tells her how “[menstruating] is a shameful thing,” yet Anne replies with, “Marilla says it’s from God, so how can it be shameful?”
Content-wise, Anne with E does not shy away from the darkness of Anne’s situation. We witness blatant sexual conversations, flash backs of physical abuse, violence, and bullying. The camera pans away from very little of this content. Anne had her childhood innocence stolen from her, and Anne with E challenges us with questions about the injustice of it all and our response to it.
These are heavy, uncomfortable topics, and the candidness with which they are discussed is also why I highly recommend for young children to avoid Anne with E. Just as Anne shouldn’t have known these things, neither do children who might come across this series on their Netflix screen.
For teens and adults alike, Anne with E can challenge our thinking. How do we handle those who have had different, perhaps scarier experiences than we have? How do we treat the person who doesn’t perfectly fit in what we decide is “Good and Proper”? For believers, I feel we must be convicted to love more, forgive more, and have grace for the hurting and misunderstood. Those of us who have been spared abuse and loss of innocence at a young age need to remember that we are just as in need of a Savior as those who don’t appear as “squeaky clean” on the outside.
Heidi Joelle is an executive assistant by day and a writer, editor, and reader by night. She can be coaxed from the house by the sound of a good adventure or traveling somewhere new. Her sidekick Smokey the Saint Bernard is rarely far off, usually pretending he's asleep.
p.s. As a side note, I’d recommend Sarah Bessey’s review of Anne with E. My thoughts are from someone with no positive attachment to the old movies. Sarah is someone who loved the old versions and also liked Anne with E.