Firstly, Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians! And here's a spelling bee word: sesquicentennial.
Second, today was the premiere of the last of the L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables films.
So, here's the review!
SPOILERS LEFT-RIGHT-CENTRE AND LEFT AGAIN BELOW
Fire and Dew is set maybe about a year after The Good Stars and the story of Anne's transition out of childhood. Interestingly, the film begins with Matthew taking a nice long walk, but he's not as physically active as before and needs a cane. Anne is now fourteen years old and the obvious sign of this is a wardrobe change. No more one-piece pinafore dresses - she has to wear a blouse and long skirt (and probably a corset). And she's heading to school for the first time after summer break, where it's apparent that everyone is growing up. It's also apparent that Gilbert is still unhappy with how Anne broke off their budding relationship at the end of The Good Stars (though Diana's comments about burying the hatchet might be related to not just that incident but the entire relationship between Anne and Gilbert). They act awkward around each other, but they still seem pretty cordial around each other. (Also, did Anne even tell Diana about the reason why Anne decided to not get along with Gilbert? Because the end of The Good Stars implied to me it was Anne choosing her friendship with Diana over a potentially close relationship with Gilbert. Diana would understand, I'm sure, but I guess Anne was more worried about Diana feeling sad? Or maybe it's the decision to avoid romance, like what Matthew suggested?)
The first half of the film focuses on Anne and her fellow students studying to enter Queen's Academy at the suggestion of Miss Stacy (Anne is thrilled with the idea of studying to become a teacher). Miss Stacy is still somewhat of a local sensation and a forceful character. Rachel's opinion is the same as the book, still dubious of a female teacher, especially when Miss Stacy rides a bicycle to the schoolhouse! Scandalous. But her speech to her Queen's class was particularly moving - Miss Stacy tells her students that what they're attempting is what will mark the ending of their childhoods because they are deciding for themselves what path they want to take in life. Also, the series introduces Moody Spurgeon to the class as a new student they haven't met before. I hadn't realized that Moody wasn't in the series until now. The other students in the Queen's class are Anne, Gilbert, Ruby (it turns out she's great at math), Jane, and Josie. Anne is devastated to be separated from Diana, whose parents think it's too expensive to continue to the next level of education. Anne has similar worries about money, but Marilla assures her that she and Matthew have taken into account the need to set aside funds so that Anne gets the education she deserves. Anne's also still a romantic at heart, at least, that what Miss Stacy notes when she catches Anne reading a novel hidden in her math textbook.
Anne (and Gilbert) get first in their entrance exams with everyone else in their class and it's off to Queen's Academy in Charlottetown. All the girls board at a boarding house run by Miss Periwinkle, an older woman from Yorkshire (and wow does she have a strong accent). She's a sensitive woman, kindly, though emotional. Anne struggles with homesickness and worries about failing her classes, writes letters to Diana, and is still awkward with Gilbert, especially when she winds up dancing with him because all the students were supposed to attend a dance before the exams, even though Gilbert is very nice and polite to her. Jane and Ruby have similar worries, while Josie flirts with boys and discovers fashionable clothes. Anne wins the Avery scholarship and Gilbert gets the Gold Medal. Marilla and Matthew are very proud and go to Anne's graduation in Charlottetown, even though Marilla is concerned about Matthew's health (but he wouldn't miss Anne's graduation or her speech for anything).
The second half of the film turns to domestic matters. Matthew has been worrying about the family savings at the Abbey Bank. Well, sorta. He seems confident in the bank because of the family's history with them, but Marilla isn't, especially with the interest rates and the bank being under investigation. Marilla's eyesight is getting worse as well. Anne's returned home to Green Gables and is contemplating attending Redmond College in Nova Scotia to stay close to the island, but learns Gilbert is deferring his studies to earn money by teaching at the Avonlea school and also really notices how Matthew and Marilla may need more help than they say they need. The bank fails and Matthew dies from shock (it's not explicit, but it's probably heart failure), leaving Marilla and Anne devastated in their own ways. Marilla considers selling Green Gables to a rather comedically rude and opportunistic Mr. Sadler while Anne has figured out her own way to support herself and Marilla. She defers her studies and convinces the superintendent of the school board to give her a teaching position at the Carmody school and then she sends Mr. Sadler packing (he's ridiculously rude, going to start measuring the windows at Green Gables and then arguing that he had a verbal deal with Marilla about her selling the farm). But then they learn that Gilbert's given up the Avonlea school to Anne and they become friends, burying the hatchet at last, while she walks home from the post office.
I feel that this was an awkward series to watch. The last film made me realize how much the series is written to make set up modern analogues to Anne's time period, probably to make the events more relateable to the intended contemporary audience. The graduation ceremony was probably the most obvious to me - it was almost jarring when I noticed how strange it was. And while the costumes fit (like the girls pinning up their hair as a sign of maturity - Anne doesn't pin up her hair until after she graduates from Queen's), I never felt fully convinced that any of the kids were actually grown-up and ready to be teachers. They all look like they're fourteen and in more mature clothing (it was easy enough to believe that Megan Follows' Anne could be a teacher by the end of the Sullivan series, though to be fair, Follows was in her late teens when the series was filmed, compared to Ella Ballentine, who was probably about 15 and still looks like she's in her early teens, but the way the made Megan Follows look younger and gradually progress into adulthood was more convincing). I didn't find the film was paced very well (though much better the first one) and the emotional impact of the events felt lacking (especially Matthew's death, it was abrupt and underwhelming).
Marilla noticeably much softer and affectionate with Anne and Matthew has been the same steady character, with his relationship with Anne. Fire and Dew shows much close they've gotten to Anne, how much they love her, and also have a solid relationship with one another. They are a family - one lovely scene after Anne returns home shows her singing with Matthew after he shows her a blooming Scotch rose that his mother planted when she was feeling homesick, and Marilla overhears it and starts singing the song to herself in the kitchen. Marilla and Matthew's best scenes were probably remembering things about Anne while she's away at Queen's and then Marilla telling Matthew, in a very apparent moment of shyness that falls upon him from being way out of his element, everything he needs to find out from the bank (and fails to do so). But as most have noticed, Matthew is particularly not anything like the man they imagined from the books. And it was mildly funny when, at Matthew's funeral, Gilbert mentions liking Matthew because they're both shy (really? I never got that impression from Martin Sheen's Matthew or Drew Haytaoglu's Gilbert).
And honestly, after watching Fire and Dew, I don't think I felt like I was constantly comparing it to the Sullivan mini-series or the recent CBC series. It's just so different, but it didn't feel like a very strong adaptation that managed to have it's own voice. It felt a lot like the producers were picking and choosing the parts they liked or thought were important from the books, but it was mostly dialogue or incidental events. Also had mixed feelings when Muriel at the post office reveals she's reading a novel of short stories by a female author from Cavendish about the locals in her town - seems to an overt attempt at something metaphysical.
I'm actually kinda impressed that they stayed true to the material and let Matthew die considering the films have shied away from anything outright dark. The costumes and sets were very nice. And Anne's relationships with Marilla, Matthew, and Diana were very cute to watch. And the producers integrated a lot of material from the source. And I think Anne's transition out of childhood (despite the choppiness) was actually developed nicely in this film, to show her going from an easily distracted and imaginative child into a young woman who is sensitive to others around her and with a clearer sense of direction and a sense of responsibility. I'm going to say that Fire and Dew is a fitting conclusion to the series.
It might be awhile before it's released locally in other countries, but I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts on Fire and Dew.