AC­CI­DEN­TAL FEM­I­NIST

Cape Breton Post - - Weekend - BY BILL BRI­OUX Bill Bri­oux is a free­lance TV colum­nist based in Bramp­ton, Ont.

‘Anne’ writer dis­cusses fi­esty hero­ine as se­ries heads to Net­flix

The “fe­male gaze” has be­come a hot topic in tele­vi­sion.

The ex­plo­sion in scripted con­tent has opened the door to a new gen­er­a­tion of fe­male stars and showrun­ners, and as a re­sult, gen­der has be­come an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant fac­tor in sto­ry­telling’s point of view.

Se­ries such as the fe­male prison drama “Orange is the New Black,” cre­ated by Jenji Ko­han and re­turn­ing for a fifth sea­son next month on Net­flix, have led the way. So has Lena Dun­ham’s “Girls” as well as writer/direc­tor Jill Soloway’s Ama­zon dra­mas “Trans­par­ent” and the new “I Love Dick.” “The Hand­maid’s Tale,” based on Mar­garet At­wood’s best­seller, and come­dies “Crazy Ex-Girl­friend” and “Fleabag” have also been part of the con­ver­sa­tion.

Moira Wal­ley-Beck­ett sug­gests it can ac­tu­ally be traced back nearly 110 years.

Wal­ley-Beck­ett is the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and screen­writer be­hind “Anne,” the re­cent CBC se­ries based on the beloved Anne of Green Gables nov­els from Cana­dian au­thor Lucy Maud Mont­gomery. The first of the books was pub­lished in 1908.

“There’s so much con­ver­sa­tion in the world right now about fem­i­nism, bul­ly­ing, gen­der par­ity, equal­ity and prej­u­dice against peo­ple who come from away and these are all themes that are built right into L.M. Mont­gomery’s stories,” says Wal­ley-Beck­ett, who was in New York re­cently to pro­mote the se­ries, re­named “Anne with an ‘E”’ for its in­ter­na­tional re­lease on Net­flix.

In adapt­ing Mont­gomery’s prose, Wal­ley-Beck­ett says “it felt re­ally ex­cit­ing to be part of that con­ver­sa­tion right now. That was a huge im­pe­tus for want­ing to tell this story.”

She says she first read Mont­gomery’s “Anne” books when she was around 12.

“I grew up in Canada where it was al­most re­quired read­ing,” says the Van­cou­ver na­tive. “I just de­voured that en­tire se­ries. I didn’t think any­body saw me for days.”

Re-read­ing the books as an adult in prepa­ra­tion for adapt­ing the se­ries was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence, she says. For one thing, she found that Anne was “an ac­ci­den­tal fem­i­nist be­fore the term was even coined.”

“She’s out­spo­ken, she’s opin­ion­ated, she’s fiery fierce and brave. I re­ally wanted to high­light her fem­i­nist traits be­cause it is the mo­ment right now.”

The first sea­son of the show con­sists of eight episodes - will there be more? “Anne” was well re­ceived crit­i­cally in Canada but the rat­ings did not quite live up to ex­pec­ta­tions, de­spite a mas­sive pro­mo­tional cam­paign.

The se­ries pre­miered to close to a mil­lion view­ers on CBC, with the fol­low­ing episodes in the 700,000 to 800,000 range. CBC has yet to of­fi­cially re­new the se­ries.

Both Wal­ley-Beck­ett and young star Amy­beth McNulty say they hope to do more

“Anne.”

“I think it would be pretty fun,” says Wal­ley-Beck­ett. “We’re not even any­where near through the first book.”

Part of the chal­lenge for “Anne” was liv­ing up to the high rat­ings ex­pec­ta­tions set by the 1985 CBC ver­sion cre­ated by Kevin Sul­li­van. That “Anne of Green Gables” minis­eries was Canada’s “Roots,” open­ing to close to five mil­lion view­ers. Sun­days, how­ever, were far less clut­tered back then (and rat­ings gath­er­ing far less pre­cise).

Sul­li­van’s “Anne” was much more ro­man­ti­cized than the new ver­sion. Wal­ley-Beck­ett, whose “Break­ing Bad” scripts won ac­claim, sought to ex­plore Anne’s abused or­phan back­story.

“I’m re­ally drawn to wounded peo­ple and hu­man stories,” she says, “and re­ally ex­cited about this cur­rent con­ver­sa­tion in the world.”

The “E” in the show’s new ti­tle could stand for ex­port. Net­flix en­joys close to 100 mil­lion sub­scribers world­wide, with nearly half in the United States. The Anne of Green Gables stories are pop­u­lar there (Sul­li­van’s se­ries was a hit in the ‘80s on PBS), but also else­where. Ja­panese tourists, for ex­am­ple, reg­u­larly visit the Anne of Green Gables mu­seum in Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

“I’ve seen a cou­ple of In­sta­gram post­ings where peo­ple have tagged me in draw­ings,” says 15-year-old Ir­ish ac­tress McNulty of the for­eign in­ter­est.

“I thought, ‘You haven’t even seen it yet and al­ready you’re mak­ing draw­ings!’ They’re ob­vi­ously ex­cited.”

CP PHOTO

Moira Wal­ley-Beck­ett ac­cepts the award for out­stand­ing writ­ing for a drama se­ries for her work on “Break­ing Bad” at the 66th An­nual Prime­time Emmy Awards in Los An­ge­les in 2014. Wal­ley-Beck­ett is the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and screen­writer be­hind “Anne,” the re­cent CBC se­ries based on the beloved Anne of Green Gables nov­els.

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