Louisa May Alcott’s much loved story of the March sisters has been told on film many times before – most notably in George Cukor’s 1933 version starring Katherine Hepburn – but it will be hard to find a better adaptation than Greta Gerwig’s 2019 reworking of the classic tale.
Written in the 1860s, the novel follows the four March sisters – impulsive, tomboyish Jo, kind Meg, peacemaker Beth and artistic Amy – and their beloved mother Marmee as they struggle to survive during the American Civil War. While their father is away at war, the girls form a relationship with Laurie, the boy who lives across from them, and his rich grandfather, and also try to tolerate their judgemental Aunt March.
Purists may raise an eyebrow when they learn that Gerwig has taken the story and rearranged it – we see Jo as a struggling writer in New York and Meg as a wife before we flash back to their teenage years – but it works really well in her capable hands. The structure of the story may have changed – and some lesser characters are absent – but Gerwig focuses on the Marches themselves and delivers a warm, gorgeous tale about young women who want to learn, to grow and to experience life for themselves.
Gerwig is stunningly served by her cast, too. Emma Watson gets her best role (and gives her best performance) since the later Harry Potter movies, while Scanlen is a moving, shy and believable Beth and Pugh a perfect, stubborn Amy. Chalamet, meanwhile, delivers the screen’s best version of Laurie (the character often come across as too shallow on film but here is a Laurie you can truly fall in love with) and there is superb support from Laura Dern as Marmee, Chris Cooper as Mr Laurence and Meryl Streep as Aunt March.
But if the movie is writer/director Greta Gerwig’s creation (with much acclaim to cinematographer Yorick Le Saux), the person that has given it true life is Saorise Ronan.
Many readers of Little Women cite Jo as their favourite character – she’s tough, with a fiery temper and a strong heart (and she’s a writer which gets our vote) – and she is all those things and so much more in the hands of Ronan, who delivers such a beautiful, heartfelt performance that she makes you forget all the Jo’s that have gone before (yes, even Hepburn’s).
One of the best films of 2019.
Is Little Women 2019 suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
Those who have read the book will know there is one sad part of it. This is handled sensitively but will probably upset all viewers.
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