Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has been adapted for the screen many times before, with the earliest screen version dating all the way back to a silent film in 1917. It’s a tale that everyone is aware of, even if they haven’t experienced it for themselves.
With this in mind, Greta Gerwig had to face the challenge of adapting Alcott’s classic novel for the screen in an entirely unique way. Somehow she managed to pull it off, and the result is just wonderful.
In order to do this, she chose to tell the story largely from the perspective of Jo (Saoirse Ronan). For those of you familiar with Gerwig’s debut film Lady Bird, you’ll know that she and Ronan are a cinematic match made in heaven.
In Little Women, Jo is first introduced to us as a struggling writer who is hoping to earn a living through her work to support her family. She’s driven by her desire to become a writer and support herself, and has no interest in societal pressures of the time such as ‘marrying well’.
Jo is one of five children and each of them has their own unique skills, desires and personalities which frequently cause them to clash with each other. Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen), alongside Jo are a constant delight to watch on screen.
Whilst Jo is a stellar protagonist, I found myself particularly drawn to Amy. She is very different to her sisters, and as the youngest March sister she can often come across as a ‘drama queen’, as she constantly wants things her way.
But Pugh plays her in a way that’s utterly charming, and she definitely gets the most laughs from audiences due to her hilarious one-liners and her ability to cause drama whenever she doesn’t get her way.
Whilst Jo and Amy arguably steal the spotlight, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen give brilliant performances of Meg and Beth. Meg is the eldest sister and becomes a mother figure whenever Marmee is away. She also fulfils societal expectations such as being a wife and mother, and a ‘proper’ lady, which Watson embodies very well.
Beth is more quiet and subdued, but has an overwhelming love for music and playing the piano. She is adored by her sisters which makes it particularly tragic that she spends most of the film ill. Scanlen really brought this character to life and had me in tears at one point.
The lives of the sisters become complicated when Theodore ‘Laurie’ Laurence (Timothee Chalamet) arrives on the scene, and he soon finds himself drawn to Jo. She, however, has no interest in settling down with a man, but Amy does.
Chalamet’s portrayal of Laurie is compelling, and whilst he’s very charming he’s certainly not perfect, with his flaws also brought to light through the film. I really enjoyed him in this role.
Laurie and his grandfather are very good to the family, and he soon becomes well known amongst each of the March’s, including their mother, known as Marmee (Laura Dern). Dern is brilliant as the family matriarch, full of kindness and love for her daughters.
It’s not Little Women without Aunt March either, and Meryl Streep’s portrayal is just wonderful. As a wealthy women who lives in a mansion, she has high expectations for the March sisters and expects them to marry well and be ‘proper’.
Streep’s performance will also generate several laughs, due to the fact she’s incredibly cynical and witty, and is not afraid to speak her mind.
Aside from the performances, the film is complemented by a gorgeous Alexandre Desplat score, which transports you to the world of the March sisters and adds drama when needed too.
The costumes are beautiful too, which is to be expected from a period drama. It’s a real feast for the eyes to see such beautiful dresses and suits in front of a picturesque background, and it’s such a pleasure to watch. The whole film is gorgeously put together.
As someone who isn’t really a massive period drama fan, I was surprised at how much I adored this and it’s inspired me to seek out the novel and give it a read. It’s a funny, entertaining, emotional film and you find yourself fully invested in the sisters.