Film review: ‘LITTLE WOMEN’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Little Women, directed by Greta Gerwig, is the seventh cinema adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s bestselling semi-autobiographical 1868 novel; the first film version having appeared in 1917. Gerwig’s adaptation, like Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version, intelligently combines historical fiction, romance, comedy, tragedy and feminism for a very pleasing, if at times slow-moving film.

Little Women tells the story of the March sisters: Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) in Civil War-era Massachusetts. As they and their mother, Marmee (Laura Dern) try to cope with the privations of the war and the absence of husband/father (Bob Odendirk) they also attempt to realise personal, professional, artistic and romantic aspirations.

Central to the story and essentially representing Alcott is the strong-willed Jo who aspires to become a writer and rejects the socially prescribed path for women of marriage and motherhood as well as the advances of louche local rich boy Theodore ‘Laurie’ Laurence (Timothee Chalamet). The film also explores Amy’s quest to become a painter, Meg’s marriage to an underpaid teacher and Beth’s musical gifts. While Gerwig’s script allocates reasonable time to each sister, some stories, such as Amy’s feel a little thin and underwhelming.

While this is for the most part a faithful rather than an experimental interpretation of this oft-told story, Gerwig has chosen a slightly unusual approach to story structure. In a move that may irk some viewers the story frequently jumps back and forth across a seven-year period showing how characters meet and then how their relationship plays out. Because the characters don’t’ look any different it’s hard to tell which year they’re in although the past is often filmed in golden hues.

Despite some script quibbles, few could deny this is a quality piece of filmmaking with superb cinematography, set design, costuming and fine use of music with a sprightly score and thoughtful incidental numbers. Most importantly, the film features fine performances from the entire cast. While the younger cast members are all excellent, the veterans almost steal the film with Meryl Streep hilarious as the acerbic Aunt March who disapproves of everyone (more of her would have been welcome) and Chris Cooper very touching as Laurie’s grandfather who has never quite recovered after losing his daughter.

This version of Little Women doesn’t radically reinterpret Alcott’s work and despite a few structural changes is very similar to Gillian’s Armstrong’s film but it offers quality filmmaking in all departments.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Historical drama/ romance.

Classification: G.

Director(s): Greta Gerwig.

Release date: 1st Jan 2020.

Running time: 135 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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