Anne With An E and Anne Of Green Gables draw from the same books but tell their stories very differently.
For over 30 years 1985’s Anne Of Green Gables has been the definitive adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s original story. Many different adaptations have come and gone since, but for many, Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie as Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe were iconic in the classic roles. With 2017’s premiere of Anne With An E (or Anne in Canada), a new generation had another version of the story to love.
Both adaptations of Montgomery’s novel (as they were both primarily based on the Anne Of Green Gables book) have some serious merit, and there’s certainly room for both to be favorites. There are, however, some points better executed in the 2017 series – and some better executed in 1985. We take a look at just what each adaptation got right.
Updated By Amanda Bruce On June 29, 2020: The story of Anne of Green Gables still proves timeless as fans rediscover Anne Shirley and Avonlea thanks to streaming platforms. As the number of fans for the 2017 remake of the story continue to grow as well, we examine even more of what the different adaptations did right.
*2017: Matthew And Marilla’s Relationship
Marilla is very clearly the person in charge at Green Gables, even if the times dictates that it’s Matthew in charge of the estate’s finances. Earlier versions of the story tend to make Marilla much more harsh with her brother than she is in Anne With An E.
The newest version gives the audience an idea of just what Matthew and Marilla have been through together. Marilla essentially raised Matthew following the deaths of their brother and mother, and Matthew gets the chance to reciprocate when she falls ill as well.
*1985: The Sense Of Humor
If there’s one thing 1985’s Anne Of Green Gables really nails, it’s infusing the story with a sense of humor. Anne Shirley can be an incredibly dramatic individual, but her antics were often played for laughs in the earlier version of her story.
More often than not, the 2017 version plays up the drama of an event without truly finding the humor in it. There are very few moments that made fans laugh in the older story that are played the same way in the new one.
*2017: A Likable Romantic Rival
One thing that’s clear in every version of Anne is that she and Gilbert Blythe belong together. That doesn’t mean the two don’t have interest in other people.
What’s great about Anne With An E is that the audience gets to see that from Gilbert’s point of view instead of just Anne’s. With earlier versions of the story focusing solely on Anne, it means that anyone interested in Gilbert is immediately written as a villain. Winifred, instead, is warm, funny, and smart, and a truly likable character. The audience feels for her when her heart is broken.
*1985: Anne’s Dramatic Readings
One of the hallmarks of Anne’s character in the novel is her dramatic readings of poetry. At town events, she’s often called on to recite passages. That doesn’t happen often in the 2017 series. In fact, Anne’s recitations are confined to her first day at school, when the class makes fun of her, and Aunt Josephine’s holiday party.
The 1985 series, however, plays up Anne’s dramatic nature with those readings. One of the moments where the audience gets to see how much her place in Avonlea has changed is when she recites “The Highwayman” to rapt attention and applause.
*2017: Anne VS Josie
Josie Pye is a bit of a mean girl. Though she’s part of Anne’s circe of friends, she and Anne are never truly friendly. In the 1985 depiction, however, Josie is simply a footnote in Anne’s story. 2017’s sees Josie as a formative part of Anne’s youth.
Josie alternately counts Anne as one of her closest friends and worst enemies in the series. No matter how hard Anne tries to get close to her, something always comes between them. Anne With An E makes it clear that it’s not entirely the fault of the two girls though as Josie’s mother pushes Josie in a specific direction and Josie’s own unhappiness clashes with the help Anne tries to give.
1985: A Lighter Tone
The one common note, especially from critics during the first season of Anne With An E, was that the modern series was simply too dark. Montgomery’s lighter tone was employed more effectively in the 1985 version.
Anne was always a dreamer who managed to find beauty in the world around her, even when no one else could. While the modern series included a lot of flashbacks to darker times in Anne’s life, the 1985 series only hinted at them, keeping the story more in tune with Anne’s dreamer point of view. Mistakes became comedic instead of tragic, and even the tragedies faced in Anne Of Green Gables were more classically romantic than dramatic.
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2017: Increased Diversity
There’s one thing fans of the modern series will immediately take notice of while watching the 1985 version: it’s not diverse at all. Despite the fact that people of color were living in and passing through areas of Prince Edward Island at the turn of the 19th century, they didn’t show up in the 1985 mini-series – nor in Montgomery’s novels.
The 2017 series corrected that, showing that the world was more than just Avonlea. With the inclusion of Sebastian LaCroix, born and raised in Trinidad, and members of the Mi’kmaq community on the island, Anne’s world was expanded and real issues of race, class, and prejudices in Canada were addressed in the series.
1985: No Gold Storyline
The slowest moving storyline of the new series was definitely con artists convincing Avonlea residents that there was gold in their soil. It’s not a plot from the novel, so it did provide some fresh moments for the series, but it wasn’t something that half a season needed to be devoted to.
As a result, Anne Of Green Gables didn’t move as slowly in its middle hours, creating a more seamless transition from book to screen.
2017: Empowered Women
Anne Shirley was always a young woman who knew her own mind, and every adaptation has reflected that. The 2017 version, however, allowed the other Avonlea women to become empowered as well.
Josie Pye was allowed to say “no” to Billy Andrews, Diana Barry got the chance to decide her own future, Rachel Lynde changed the town council, Prissy Andrews became interested in running the family business, and even little Minnie May called out the hypocrisy in her family. Anne’s belief that women should be taken as seriously as men rubbed off on the women around her instead of them writing her off as eccentric until the end.
1985: Anne’s Sinking Boat
One of the most iconic sequences in the novels involved Anne nearly drowning while playing make-believe with her friends. She had to be saved by her then enemy Gilbert Blythe, much to his amusement and her anger. That scene never made it into the 2017 series. It certainly made an impression in the 1985 adaptation.
Fans of Anne Of Green Gables will never forget Anne clinging to the underside of a bridge with nowhere to go, seriously contemplating staying there forever instead of taking Gilbert’s offered seat in his boat. Her pride and her anger at him lasted much longer in the miniseries than in the modern take.
2017: Gilbert Blythe
For 1985 audiences, Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe. Mischievous and charming, he nailed his performance. That being said, Gilbert didn’t get to have much of a story beyond alternately annoying Anne and pining for her. The 2017 series changed that.
In the modern series, not only did Gilbert lose his father, but he was forced to make serious decisions about his future much earlier than he thought. He made a new family with Bash, Mary, and Delphine. Gilbert found a way to save his farm and pursue a career. He also still got to be the romantic hero of Anne’s story. The expansion of his story in particular, and making him a much more well-rounded character, was a very welcome addition to the new series. Lucas Jade Zumann was a worthy successor to Crombie as well, with the same kind of charm Crombie exemplified in the earlier series.
1985: The Slate Break
It could be difficult to make someone breaking a slate over another person’s head convincing on camera. Anne With An E saw Anne slap Gilbert with her slate in a sudden fit of anger, and it just didn’t quite hit the same way as Anne Of Green Gables.
The 1985 scene had Anne get increasingly more annoyed with Gilbert over a longer sequence of events – before he ever pulled her braid and called her “Carrots.” When Megan Follows as Anne finally snapped and brought her slate down, the moment was well earned and felt like the first pivotal step in the Gilbert-Anne rivalry. It didn’t have the same impact in the 2017 scene.
2017: Josephine Barry
In previous versions of Anne’s story, Josephine Barry was an imposing figure that everyone in the Barry household was a bit frightened of. After all, Barry money was hers and she lived in the city, rarely visiting her extended family.
Anne With An E made Aunt Josephine a much less imposing figure and one that Anne and Diana could genuinely be friendly with. Her party opened Anne’s eyes to a wider world of art and city life. The reveal that Aunt Josephine was a lesbian also paved the road for Anne’s friend Cole to come out to her, something that never would have happened in previous versions of the story.
1985: Spinoffs And Sequels
Anne With An E faced cancellation following its third season, so the story never moved beyond Anne’s school days. Anne Of Green Gables, however, received numerous sequels and even a spinoff series.
Following the first special was Anne Of Avonlea and Anne: The Continuing Story. The latter didn’t follow the source material but created a new story for viewers to enjoy. A series set in the small town of Avonlea spun out of the specials as well, focusing on new characters and allowing fans to see the world initially created by Montgomery expand. It created a more complete picture of the world instead of stopping the story just as Anne left to attend Queens.
2017: More Character Backstory
The 1985 Anne Of Green Gables “movie” was actually a four-hour miniseries that aired on television in Canada before being picked up by PBS and the Disney Channel in the U.S. and making its way around the world. It only had four hours to adapt to the novel. Anne With An E, despite feeling cut short with a season three cancellation, had three seasons to do the same.
That meant that the series had a lot more time to expand on the characters that were short-changed in the previous adaptation – or not expanded at all. One of the best examples is Jerry, the Cuthberts’ hired farmhand. He’s mentioned in the books, but never truly introduced. The 2017 series gave Jerry a full personality, a family to go home to, a friendship with Anne, and a relationship with Diana. He’s one of the best additions to the series.