Recently I saw a film that brightened my dreary January and reminded me why a humble domestic yarn about sisterhood is still my favourite story of all time. Yes, I saw Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, and I have to say that I think it is my favourite adaptation yet.
Saoirse Ronan has played my most favourite of all female heroines, Jo March, with just enough passion and intensity for it to be said that she has done a bloody good job of it. I love Winona Ryder’s Jo but she was a little winsome and whiny for my taste in comparison to Ronan, who manages to make Jo seem a much breezier and more bestial character. Jo is wild and fiercely intelligent and this really comes across in her performance. I couldn’t help thinking how much it seemed that she was Jo, rather than just play acting at being Jo.
When I heard Timothee Chalamet was cast as Laurie my face fell. I couldn’t believe that such a lanky, bendy, boy-man had been chosen to play this most (in my mind) loftiest of male heroes. But that was before I saw him act. I hadn’t seen his mannerisms, his quirkiness, his self-abandon. He is a fantastic actor and far more handsome in the ‘flesh’ as in stills and images. He manages to be boyish and to lark around and play the clown with Jo one minute and to be the romantic hero with Amy the next. A versatile, and though not an obvious choice for me, a jolly good Laurie.
Next onto Emma Watson, who plays the lovely Meg. I have seen it said that her performance is dull and lack lustre, but I think she brings an intelligence and a thoughtfulness to Meg that can be lacking in other portrayals. Her struggle against her acquisitive and materialistic nature whilst married to John Brooke is carefully handled by Watson who doesn’t overplay it. This is partly due to her talent and partly due to Gerwig’s skillful direction. When I first heard that Emma Watson was in the new Little Women film, I mistakenly thought she had been cast as Jo. I think this would have been ill judged. Fortunately, she works as Meg on the same level that Ronan works as Jo.
The actress who plays Beth skillfully plays the shyest and most humble of the March sisters with aplomb. It was such a wrench when Beth dies -we all know it’s coming – but that makes it no less distressing when the moment finally arrives.
Finally I can’t rate Florence Pugh’s Amy highly enough. She is an assured young actress with a certain hauteur that perfectly suits the role. I’ve seen her in The Little Drummer Boy on the BBC and was impressed then; this performance I think will send her stratospheric. I also loved the way the film almost becomes the Jo and Amy Show as the two characters rail against each other, often in mocking and jocular fashion.
The one mistake this film makes is not to have a ‘young Amy’ and an ‘adult Amy’, though perhaps that would not work with the time slip nature of the film, where the narrative skips back and forth in time as the girls mature. They just about get away with Florence Pugh as the young Amy, but there are moments when it is glaringly obvious that she is in fact not twelve but in her early twenties!
The film is utterly beautiful to look at. The styling and colour of the film is soft, pastel, pretty colours that are easy on the eye and yet embellish the narrative perfectly. I was dying to get my hands on some of the clothes worn in the film, and think that the Costume designer alone deserves a nod at the Oscars this year. I’ve recently discovered on Instagram an account called Little Women Atelier, who have an Etsy shop selling dresses in the style of the 1860s as per Louisa’s Little Women. Bliss! However, I can’t quite imagine taking myself off to work in one!
Another positive from the film is that Greta Gerwig took a chance and rearranged the chronology of the story. The younger March sisters are portrayed in flashback and so the narrative skips around a bit, bringing a freshness and a vitality to the film. The whole production seems fresh, alive and buoyant.
The overriding triumph of this film is the fact that it is, secondary to the theme of friendship and sisterhood, the subject of writing is a focal point. Jo exists to write, she lives and breathes it, and to see her attempts at writing so centrally placed in the narrative is refreshing. She doesn’t exist just to become a wife and mother. Her romantic fate at the close of the film is left hanging in the air (though we do understand that it will probably end happily for her!) and it is the publication of her novel that is brought centre stage. This made me happy. Not just as a woman who wants to see more rounded characters, but I think it would have been the ending Louisa May Alcott would have desired, had it not been for the brief from her publisher.
It’s unlikely by now, but if you haven’t seen Little Women yet, please, please go. It is a timeless story with endearingly lovable characters and storylines. This version is a visual treat and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Happy February everyone!