Film Review: Little Women – 8.5/10

‘I can’t get over my disappointment at being a girl…’

Little Women' Review: Greta Gerwig's Stunning, Smart Adaptation ...

For my English Literature degree, I had to read a bunch of stuff that was, quite frankly, dull. I’d happily live the rest of my life without having to read another word of Jane Austen, for example. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was, quite literally, a different story. Instead of lots of simpering women fainting all over the place whilst awful men propose to them every five minutes, the story of the March girls features hard-headed, individualistic characters, with each of the four sisters representing a different kind of womanhood. While it does feature plenty of romance, Alcott acknowledges the reality behind the necessity of marriage for the March girls – facing full on the fact that they had little hope of making their way in the world without a man. There have been various adaptations of Little Women over the years. Indeed, a perfectly serviceable version was released by the BBC in 2017. What could director and writer Greta Gerwig have to say about the March girls that hadn’t been said before? Plenty, it turns out…

The March sisters; Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) await the return of their father (Bob Odenkirk) from the American Civil War and try their best to make the most of their poverty, using their benevolent mother (Laura Dern) as inspiration.

The first aspect of Little Women that marks it out from other adaptations is the fact that Gerwig strays from the chronologicality of the novel and instead utilises flashbacks and flashforwards that allow the story to breath, whilst also getting the best out of her cast. And what a cast Gerwig has assembled…

Eliza Scanlen is suitably vulnerable and heavenly as the doomed youngest sister Beth and Emma Watson captures the eagerness to please that defines the oldest March girl Meg but it is Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh who define this movie. As the characters clash and argue, Ronan and Pugh compete to showcase which of them is the best actress in the world right now, for it is surely one of them. To see Saoirse Ronan acting alongside Meryl Streep (wonderfully rude and abrasive as the girls rich but emotionally distant Aunt March) is to witness a symbolic passing of the torch from one generation of world class actress to the next. Florence Pugh again reminds us of her versatility capturing both Amy’s naive immaturity in her youth and her world weary assertiveness in her later years perfectly. It is quite simply a joy to watch them work.

Adapting Little Women is akin to having a stab at A Christmas Carol, it’s very difficult to do something fresh and exciting. By employing this cast and incorporating the life of Louisa May Alcott into the story, Greta Gerwig has created the definitive adaptation of this beloved story. There needn’t be another one. Alcott would surely have approved.

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