Like some fellow die hard fans, I was skeptical about Netflix’s new adaption of the timeless coming of age classic, Anne of Green Gables starring newcomer Amybeth McNulty. But I was intrigued after learning that Imaginary Forces had created the main titles and curiosity finally got the better of me so I gave it a try.
This series is a true kindred spirit.
I grew up with this wholesome tale of Anne Shirley, the quick tongued orphan ‘cursed’ with red hair and a fiery temper to match. She quickly became a favorite of mine because author Lucy Maude Montgomery created a character with depth and spunk. I can’t recall how many times my mother would compare my stubborn nature and ridiculous imagination to this unlikely protagonist. Anne was a hero to girls like me growing up.
And now I am a mother to my own two red headed kids. I have spent my almost 20-year career in production so I watch stories, but as a writer I tend to focus on the script and dialogue first. I find that what makes this new Anne stand out for me not only as a Director but an equal partner in our color grading process, is the thoughtful color palette. It instantly captured me.
Anne with an E is a series dripping with beauty. Beautifully developed characters, wonderfully scripted words and gorgeous cinematography. As the seasons progress and I consume more episodes, I have grown to love each new adaptation of the beloved characters of the fictional and bucolic Avonlea (located in Canada’s Prince Edward Island). I cry at every episode. And I do this not only because I care about their struggles, triumphs and tribulations. I care because the ones who brought this series back to life cared about every detail.
They cared about selling a world of both beauty and bleakness. Taking the time to show the stark contrast between the white Canadian winter and Anne’s blazing red hair only furthers the message that she feels trapped by her physical differences and massive insecurities surrounding her shortcomings. The care they have shown to develop siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert’s complicated and tragic relationship is also second to none. One that wasn’t explored to this degree in the original series but one that has made all the difference. The choice of words and camera angles make me feel as if I am sitting in their provincial kitchen as they “gab on” while seeing the world unfold through Anne’s inquisitive eyes.
So I do what I do best and start researching. DP Bobby Shore, a fellow fan of Darren Aaronfsky and his cinematographer Matthew Libatique, shot this with VariCam 35 cinema cameras (using two unless they were shooting the more complicated stunts or bigger scenes) at 23.98. His much grittier approach and more cinema verite style caught my attention immediately as it felt more emotionally driven. I also found that when compiling his references in developing the look of the series he pulled from Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre and Jane Campion’s The Piano. All movies Anne would have devoured, by the way. He also was influenced by the photography of Sally Mann and how she captures landscapes, which truly elevate the production value of this series.
But equal to the wides are the smaller more intimate moments which lead to some of the best character development I have experienced in family friendly programming ever. His technique is perfect, using one camera to pan back and forth between his characters or focusing on the person in the foreground and not the person talking.
And then there is the color. *Sigh*. Going for a softer look with nice low contrast, lifted blacks and subdued whites, they delivered the world I had always imagined Avonlea to be. Some critics claim this new remake to be too bleak and depressing, perhaps too modern and gritty, but I find it to be exactly how I feel the characters view their world. It’s true and challenging and raw but there is also such a soft dreamy quality that keeps pulling me back into Anne’s imagination time and time again.
As a director who often doesn’t have the time, gear or crew to light for scenes such as these I am always trying to learn what I can and apply it to our next project. For Anne, Shore used a Panavision Panaflasher 2.0, a 6×6 glass filter with LED lights around it that creates a wash of light that the lens shoots through to contaminate the shadows a little. By using it, it lifts the noise floor of the sensor and gives more textures to the image. He also used both HMI and Tungsten lighting so he could have drastic kinds of changes in color temperature between background and foreground rooms. That kind of attention to lighting, the juxtaposition of blue and orange, is what I strive for as color palette and lighting are equal characters in telling my stories. And for Anne, the physical spaces of Green Gables, Avonlea, the barn, the kitchen, the forest and the school house are the backdrops for where her life unfolds.
I love this series because at its core it is the story of a precocious and driven young girl who bucks trends and blazes her own trail forward. And who better to tell this story than Executive Producer Miranda de Pencier, creator Moira Walley-Beckett (of Breaking Bad fame) and her all female writing team. I cannot think of a stronger teller of human and character stories than Walley-Beckett and was thrilled to see she was at the helm. Together they strived to create what Miranda called, “a documentary level of realism” and I cannot imagine a tighter and more appropriate synopsis.
This was a tall ask: recreate an outdated yet beloved classic and make us fall for the new characters as much as we did the originals. But for those of us that watched the original, we are now media savvy and production spoiled adults surfing through the golden age of television with a million more options to tempt us away faster than a batch of Marilla’s fresh baked scones. I was saddened to hear that this third season will be their last and I am relishing every delicious episode with my daughter. The season premiere opens with sweeping shots showing a perfect Canadian winter complete with rich pine coned covered evergreen forests. We are immediately re-united with old characters and introduced to a few new ones as Anne and her friends begin the touching and authentically portrayed journey into adulthood. I won’t give spoiler alerts here, but the tender scene between Anne and Matthew on the morning of her sixteenth birthday sets the stage for what I imagine will be an exciting and emotional final season.
This series holds and keeps us because it is beautifully shot and superbly written. The story is patiently told by writers who care about creating characters who are expertly directed and a world so gracefully and thoughtfully brought to life. In this golden age of television, Anne is crimson gem.