The new adaptation of "Anne of Green Gables" (a Netflix/CBC co-production) makes a case for the classic children's story, set on scenic Prince Edward Island, as one of Canada's great national narratives. Emotionally raw, in ways reminiscent of Cary Fukunaga's stellar 2011 "Jane Eyre," "Anne with an E" doesn't sugarcoat the abuse and trauma Anne suffers at the hands of the foster family she lived with (and worked for) before coming to stay with the awkward, emotionally constipated Cuthbert siblings. It also doesn't downplay the wrenching uncertainty of being a foster child, which too often means feeling like a person no one wants. If ever I've seen a compelling moral argument in favor of adoption, this show is it.
As suggested by the show's theme song, the gorgeous "Ahead by a Century" (by Canadian band the Tragically Hip), Anne is a de facto feminist in the frickin' 1870s, at which point the word feminism may not have existed. However, "Anne with an E" isn't just about exposing the horrors of the foster system or celebrating rebellion against rigid gender roles. It's also about the importance of the emotional self. The Cuthberts request a boy to help the aging Matthew work the farm. When they're sent Anne instead, Marilla sees her as a purely emotional creature, incapable of concrete usefulness, despite Marilla's own, obvious gender nonconformity. Anne, being Anne, cheekily points out Marilla's nontraditional femininity to Marilla in an effort to avoid getting shipped back to the foster home.
Matthew senses early what it takes Marilla longer to recognize: Even if Anne were a physically weak little wisp of a girl, there's something to be said for opening one's life up to the wildness -- the uncontrolled emotionality -- of a child. To see such a modern idea expressed through this adaptation of a 109-year-old piece of literature is thrilling indeed.