When it comes to remakes, reboots and sequels upon sequels in cinema, it would be fair to say that I am definitely on the side of championing more original projects than rehashed ones. However, having said that, I have always thought that despite its numerous outings on both the small and the big screen, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a story that still doesn’t have a definitive version to its name.
Many favour George Cukor’s 1933 version, and the 1994 iteration certainly became a staple of my own childhood, but for some reason, it feels like there is more to explore for modern audiences. And who better to explore it for us, than Greta Gerwig and a group of some of the most talented and beloved performers of their generation?
As I am sure we all know at this point, Little Women tells the coming of age story of the March sisters, Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). With their father off fighting in the American Civil War, the girls are raised by their mother (Laura Dern), and the narrative touches on the trials and tribulations of each young woman as she grows and matures, with the friendship of neighbour Theodore “Laurie” Laurence (Timothée Chalamet) playing a huge part in proceedings.
I won’t bother beating around the bush too much with this one, all I really have to say is that Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is wonderful. Thanks to a few timeline tweaks and structural changes compared to adaptations of the past, this version of Alcott’s classic tale feels completely refreshed and meaningful to modern audiences. The themes were always universal and comforting, but something in the choices made both behind and in front of the camera make this version, in my opinion, the best to date.
Watching this film unfold in a packed, captivated cinema, a few days after Christmas, on my birthday, with my best friend, filled me with all of the warmth and happiness that I could have hoped for. I know the story of Little Women and of these characters by heart, but each and every scene still felt like essential viewing. You won’t find a single person accusing this film of wasting its time. From the very beginning the pace is quick, and it remains so until the very end which gives the story a frenetic and tangible energy even in its slower and more melancholy moments.
There is no doubting that on the cold page, the prose of Little Women can feel more than just a little bit quaint and twee in this modern age, but in her sensibilities Greta Gerwig seems to have found a way to really bring the thing up to date without losing any of its original charm. I don’t have a sister, but thanks to the immersive quality of Little Women, I really get a sense of what it might be like, both the highs and the lows. from the hilarious, pointless squabbles to the moments when anger gets the better of them and risks turning into real danger, you live and breathe every word with the March sisters. It’s a wonderful couple of hours spent in the cinema.
The story is timeless, but there’s no getting away from the fact that any given version of Little Women can live and die by its cast. Thankfully, this one happens to be stellar. With shoes previously filled by the likes of Katherine Hepburn and Winona Ryder, it’s fair to say that Saoirse Ronan had her work cut out for her, but I for one was never, ever worried. As the iconic Jo March, Ronan continues to cement her place as the leading actress of her generation. At this point I’m starting to wonder if there is anything that the woman can’t do. Ronan has an effortless command of the screen, even when faced with the likes of Meryl Streep!
Following close behind is Florence Pugh, who gives what I truly believe to be the definitive on screen Amy March. Between this, Fighting With My Family and Midsommar, Pugh has had one hell of a year, and I’m really excited to see what she does next. I haven’t heard much Oscar buzz talk about Pugh as a Best Supporting Actress contender, but hey, I don’t mind starting it because she really was that good. The perfect combination of bratty, hilarious and cheeky for the character.
As eternal sweetie and everyone’s surrogate little sister Beth, Eliza Scanlen is super charming and lovable. Having recently seen her in the decidedly darker Sharp Objects series, I can certainly confirm that the Australian actress has range! I’m filled to the brim with festive cheer at the moment, so I’ll just say that Emma Watson perhaps doesn’t stand out as much as her sisterly co-stars. Meg March is arguably the least ‘eventful’ of the major roles, so perhaps it isn’t all down to Watson’s performance, but compared to Ronan, Pugh and even Scanlen, there just isn’t much there to right home about. Sorry Emma!
When you don’t even have the time and space to go into depths about the contributions of Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep and Laura Dern, then it gives you an idea of just how stacked this cast really is!
Overall, I’m delighted to report that Little Women is a resounding treat, a reverential and expertly crafted adaptation that showcases all of the amazing scope of the original source material. If you think a story like this is too twee to have a place in 2019/2020, then you’re just plain wrong. To be honest, I think we could all do with a little of the nostalgic pureness that this film provides. I loved it, and it’s hopped straight into my top ten of the year at the last possible minute.