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‘Anne of Green Gables’ Review: Adult Concerns Temper This Mature and Bittersweet Chapter

In PBS’ final installment, “Fire and Dew,” Anne looks to the future, which means less shenanigans for the teenager.

Ella Ballentine, “Anne of Green Gables”

PBS

Anne of Green Gables” returns for its final installment of the planned trilogy with “Fire and Dew,” in which Canada’s famed literary orphan starts taking the first steps into adulthood. Having fully embedded herself with the Cuthberts at Green Gables, Anne Shirley (Ella Ballentine) leaves home to seek out better opportunities and higher learning in Charlottetown.

The adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel “Anne of Green Gables” was split into three chunks, which means the first movie was buoyed by Anne’s discovery of a new life filled with wonders, while the second followed her hilarious scrapes as she truly became part of the Avonlea community. Thus, the final movie carries the burden of concluding the story. That is reflected in how the energy feels dialed down, but it is also about Anne being more of an adult, and thus the fun of her mishaps and outlandish imagination are missing.

That being said, the movie moves at a breakneck speed to cover Anne from the ages of 14 to 16. One minute she’s in a pinafore dress waxing poetic about melodramatic romance, and the next she’s told to put aside childish things in order to study for entrance to Queen’s Academy, where she’ll spend a year earning a teaching license. This makes for a bizarre mishmash of events that slingshots between packed montages of studying (which is just as exciting as it sounds) to slower, time-dilated moments that are supposed to reveal Anne’s burgeoning maturity.

Compared to Netflix’s non-canonical and darker “Anne With an E,” “Fire and Dew” is lightweight in its progressive themes. Nevertheless, its heroine has made her mark on Avonlea, and even her guardians Matthew (Martin Sheen) and Marilla (Sara Botsford) have come around to understanding the power of girls, their girl in particular, especially when it comes to scholarship.

Ella Ballentine and Drew Haytaoglu, "Anne of Green Gables"

Ella Ballentine and Drew Haytaoglu, “Anne of Green Gables”

PBS

Ballentine’s charisma is still the strongest part of the series, which is filled with casting misfires for her fellow students and sadly, academic rival and romantic interest Gilbert Blythe (Drew Haytaoglu). The two continue to lack chemistry, and the doesn’t help the overall energy of this movie. Martin Sheen continues to be more Martin Sheen than Matthew, but he has brought a different sort of folksy charm to the role, while Botsford is woefully underutilized.

Ballentine was also of an age with Anne while shooting, and this makes the contrast between her apparent youthfulness and the task that Anne has set herself so much greater. Seen through modern eyes, these are children playing at adulthood. Their adult-styled clothes, attempts at more mature hairstyles, and talk of jobs feel off, and yet, this was the reality during the Edwardian period. Given that we are used to 16-year-olds being led around by their hormones and aspiring to a gig at the mall, the comparison is sobering.

Being career-oriented isn’t the only grownup issue in the movie, but even if you haven’t read the book, it’s easy to guess what will happen, thanks to some heavy-handed foreshadowing. This will serve to test Anne’s usual cheer, but sadly, the heartbreak doesn’t feel entirely earned. This last movie just isn’t enough by itself. It would’ve been better if these three films had played as a miniseries over three weeks rather than over three years. We need that continuity in relationships between Anne and Gilbert, Anne and Diana (Julia Lalonde), and more to really understand her reactions this time around.

The narrative disconnect, the strange overstuffing of episodic events, and the lack of development for the secondary characters are problems that all three films have shared. And while they make the viewing less powerful than it could be, there’s still a core “Anne of Green Gables”-ness to the trilogy that can’t be denied. The messages remain the same — heartwarming and uplifting — and the gorgeous environment and Ballentine’s portrayal are up to the task of carrying this tale from a simpler, purer time.

“Fire and Dew” gets an emotional coda, one that exists in the novel, that doesn’t feel false in the moment. And yet, certain story elements have been built up that make this Anne’s story feel far from finished. Of course, Montgomery fans know that she had written several more volumes about Anne, but so far, there hasn’t been any word if Breakthrough Entertainment will also be adapting “Anne of Avonlea,” the next book in the series. In the meantime, there’s this last movie and Netflix’s “Anne With an E,” which is already producing its third season, for our “Anne” fix.

Grade: B-

“Anne of Green Gables: Fire and Dew” premieres Sunday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET. It is also available now for purchase on DVD or digitally on iTunes or Amazon.

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