So, exciting news - I managed to watch L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars yesterday!
Review below and be forewarned - there's spoilers (I don't know what counts for spoilers, so consider this my warning).
The Good Stars picks up after the events of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (no exact timeframe). Anne is twelve-going-on-thirteen and settled in at Green Gables. Now that she has a form of stability in where she's living and a family in Marilla and Matthew, she's starting to experience growing up.
This takes the form of what Marilla will repeat throughout the film as "being sensible." Anne and her friends are still very much children - Anne complains about geometry being the worst, she's still impulsive, and she's got an overactive imagination. But as she learns gradually, her actions and behaviors are not all about her and they do affect other people. During her first sleepover at Diana's house, she panics after trying to find a ghost and runs into the guestroom and hops right onto the bed of Josephine Barry, whom Marilla had expressly warned her not to offend because Aunt Josephine was going to pay for music lessons for Diana. When Marilla points out how it was impulsiveness resulted in the incident, Anne tries to justify why spontaneity is important (even though she does decide that apologizing to Josephine is important). On the night she's supposed to prepare dinner for the family, after Marilla thinks she can handle the responsibility, Anne meets a peddler and dyes her hair green. It's through these incidents that Anne realizes she's hurting people she loves because she's not thinking things through. After all, she's going to be thirteen soon.
It's particularly interesting how it's shown through her changing relationship with Gilbert and Diana. Diana teases Anne about how Anne and Gilbert like each other (Anne vehemently refuses to entertain this). Gilbert keeps one-upping Anne in school and then trying to express how much he admires her when she outdoes him (she just finds it humiliating). But when Mr. Phillips treats Gilbert unfairly, Anne steps up for him and demands to be punished equally for the same behavior. They start to become friends. Anne's oblivious to how this affects Diana, who starts to think that she's losing Anne's friendship (it doesn't help that Ruby and Josie say the same things, about how Anne is going to change). By the time Anne realizes this (after the adaptation's version of the Lily Maid incident), she decides that loyalty to Diana is more important and breaks off a budding relationship with Gilbert, which Matthew notices (and tries to gently tell her, reflecting on Marilla's seemingly failed romance with John Blythe, that being sensible is all well and good, but losing her sense of romance makes life a little sadder).
And meanwhile, there are signs that Marilla and Matthew aren't managing as well as they thought. Marilla's eyesight is going and Matthew (new to this version) is showing signs of memory loss. When he invites Anne on a mushroom hunt ends in a distressing manner when Matthew starts to panic at not remembering where he is or what he is doing; he's wandering the hallways at night; and he's having trouble doing basic math. Though Anne promises to keep it a secret because he asked, she worries too much and does the responsible thing by telling Marilla. It's going to be interesting to see how this turns out in Fire and Dew
As for the other characters, it's actually interesting to see this version's Mr. Phillips. He's depicted as a man who has become increasingly frustrated with his job. He's a total scene eater, quoting Hamlet when he announces his departure, but scenes show how he just doesn't have the passion to teach anymore. And he realizes how he's taking out his frustration on his students. It's very surprising when Matthew tries to confront Mr. Phillips over his teaching methods (insults and lack of encouragement), only for Mr. Phillips to admit that Anne is a very intelligent and diligent student that he's had the privilege of teaching before Matthew can say anything. Miss Stacy was a surprise - she just comes up, brusque and no-nonsense and ready to change things up in the class. Daily physical exercise with lots of arctic air and plays and literature. And it was very welcome to see Mrs. Allan, who quickly wins over all the Avonlea children as the new Sunday school teacher (maybe it helps that she told the story of Daniel and the lion as her first Sunday school lesson and is pro-picnic). It very clear that Anne sees her and Reverend Allan as (given the importance at the time) as positive social and religious influences (and then Anne screws up on the layer cake, though this time it's not really her fault that Marilla didn't mention the bottles were mixed up...)
One of the great difficulties of any adaptation is comparison (or contrast). It was honestly difficult to not compare certain scenes to the 1985 miniseries. I found the same sort of weaknesses as I did with the first film. It is somewhat more cohesive, less introductory, but still very episodic. It doesn't feel very strong with the interactions between characters - I still didn't find Anne and Gilbert's relationship to be developing at a pace that doesn't seem stiff (it's cute at times, but the dialogue feels strained, though to be fair, that applies to a lot of the characters, and well, maybe it's just that hard to live up to Jonathan Crombie) and all of them are still very much children. Anne's strongest relationships are still with Marilla and Matthew, especially after the mushroom foraging incident, and it was very touching, seeing Marilla caring for Matthew during his episode when he starts wandering in the house in the middle of the night. I'm going to admit, Martin Sheen's Matthew just doesn't feel like Matthew - he doesn't come across as a very reserved or shy man, and while he cares for Anne a great deal, the dynamic is much different. It's more openly encouraging and Matthew is a lot more outspoken than other versions I've seen. I was disappointed with the apology to Josephine Barry (she's a lot softer, less sharp and wry) - it just felt a little too easy, though Diana's mother is still rather wary of Anne considering the previous film's currant wine incident. The shift in chronology isn't helping. In the book (or at least in the 1985 adaptation), it happens after Anne's biggest period of isolation (Diana's mother has only just forgiven her for the wine incident, and only because she saved Minnie May). And there's no ridgepole walk - Josephine stops that from happening, though she gives Anne a rather critical talk about how she values the virtue of loyalty to honour, which likely influences Anne's decision to choose her friendship with Diana over one with Gilbert. But, to be fair, it seems like the actors are more comfortable in their roles now. And The Good Stars is good at portraying everyday life - I enjoyed the scenes where they're doing domestic things or just having social events, like Anne's and Diana's birthday parties or Anne, Diana, Ruby, and Minnie Andrews's staging of the Lily Maid story for Miss Stacy and their friends and family.
The film is a nice continuation of the previous film and it feels like it would bridge nicely into Fire and Dew. It's managed to build on the characters it only briefly touched on in the previous film and it sincerely does try to adapt the books into its own story, as risky as it might be. When I consider that, I think it was a fairly entertaining watch.
Any thoughts for anyone else who watched it? I'm guessing some people are going to wait unless it's released more locally where they are, but I'd love to hear how people enjoyed The Good Stars (whether it's now or later on). It'd be great to hear from you.