Little Women (Review) – Greta Gerwig delivers a sumptuous slice of classic literature

6 mins read

This is the sixth on screen adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel. The most recent having been the 1994 academy award nominated film starring Winona Ryder. However, unlike previous adaptations Greta Gerwig’s Little Women sings with a vibrant air of modernism. Taking the roots of the classic novel while dovetailing them with a beautiful coming of age journey. With director and cast working in unison to create a gloriously rich piece of period drama. That speaks as much to today’s society as it does the 1868 America of its birth. Gerwig not only reviving the novel, but in turn creates something new, with female empowerment and belonging sitting centre stage.

Gerwig cleverly plays with the books timeline, introducing us a (Saoirse Ronan’s) Jo March as she stands outside the door of a New York publisher. Nervously looking to expand her writing career with short stories published in a local paper. Meanwhile, her sister Amy (Florence Pugh) travels Europe with the stern Aunt March (Meryl Streep), while Meg (Emma Watson) settles into a loving but financially strained marriage to John Brooke (James Norton). With the delicate and caring Beth (Eliza Scanlen) remaining at home with their matriarchal mother Laura Dern. As Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) travels Europe in a lonely haze of alcohol and parties after being rejected by Jo.

The narrative then takes the audience through a series of flashbacks, each dovetailing neatly into the ‘present day’ focus of the screenplay. Exploring the sisters home life while their loving father (Bob Odenkirk) is away serving in the civil war. While allowing for the dynamics of family, sisterly love and sibling rivalry to shine through. Combining these with the meeting of Jo and Laurie in sea of humour, adolescent rebellion and unrequited love. The sisters equally surrounded by the love and affection of their mother, the judgmental gaze of their aunt and admiration of Laurie’s grandfather (Chris Cooper).

From Left to Right Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Eliza Scanlen in Little Women © Sony Pictures/Columbia 2019

However, as the desire of each sister to achieve takes flight, alongside a tangled web of love, desire and security. These flashbacks slowly catch up to where the film began, with each of the sisters destinies sealed in their individual desire for success or belonging.

Throughout the sublime journey that ensues, Gerwig’s screenplay sings alongside performances that bring Louisa May Alcott’s characters to life in glorious technicolour. Mixing a decidedly modern take on female empowerment with classic period drama. While also creating countless moments of beautifully orchestrated humour, drama and desire. Each actor feeding off the next in heightening their own characters importance to the narrative. With Amy in particular benefiting from a screenplay that fully allows each sister room to explore their role in the family.

Meanwhile, both cinematography and score only enhance the sense of being wrapped in warm blanket on a cold winters day. Each adding layers of warmth to the loving performances and direction that sit at the films heart. A dynamic enhanced by Greta Gerwig bringing together some of the finest young acting talent in Hollywood. Alongside the skill of Dern, Streep, Odenkirk and Cooper. Allowing for natural performances that jump from the screen and into your heart. Alongside direction of the highest standard. As Gerwig cements her place as one the most exciting new directors in America following her 2017 Ladybird.

But the real power behind the sublime Little Women is the unspoken yet tender love triangle between Amy, Jo and Laurie. A triangle of emotion and unrequited love that sears itself into the viewers memory. With Chalamet‘s Laurie full of boyish charm against the fierce intellect and independence of Ronan’s Jo. While Amy longs for Laurie, but equally desires her sisters acceptance and love. Meanwhile the scenes of Laurie’s rejected marriage proposal to Jo buzz with authenticity, humour and emotion. The onscreen chemistry between Ronan and Chalamet full of pure electricity.

However, the real tour de force in redefining Little Women waits until the end. With the director and cast placing the journey we have taken with Jo centre stage. While allowing her might and intellect to soar above any standard romantic finale. A final flourish of brilliance in a film that oozes beauty, joy and love in every single scene.

Director: Greta Gerwig

Cast:  Saoirse RonanEmma WatsonTimothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep

Timothée Chalamet also appears in The King; Coming of Age – The Essential Collection; LGBTQ – The Essential Collection; Beautiful Boy and Film Festivals

Saoirse Ronan also appears in Mary Queen of Scots; Coming of Age – The Essential Collection

Florence Pugh also appears in Midsommer and Horror – The Essential Collection

Laura Dern also appears in Marriage Story

Louis Garrel also appears in Coming of Age – The Essential Collection

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