When news hit of yet another adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel ‘Little Women’, die-hard fans rejoiced whilst others questioned how such a re-told story about four sisters could stand out amongst the growing pool of adaptations which span generations. 

Yet when it was revealed emerging directing talent Greta Gerwig would helm the new adaption, hot off the stellar success of indie gem Lady Bird, nothing but excitement was felt. The general buzz increased after announcements of the star-studded cast, including Meryl Streep as Aunt March. Even with the major expectations set upon Gerwig, it is difficult to say Gerwig does anything but shine in this film. The heartfelt roots of the original story are present and strong, but there is an undeniably contemporary feel. Little Women catapults itself as one of the most poignant and important films of 2019 which can be confidently dubbed as a must-watch film of the year (even if it came at the very end).

Little Women follows the four March sisters and their differing ambitions; there’s the eldest sister, Meg (Emma Watson); the talented pianist Beth (Eliza Scanlen); Amy, (Florence Pugh) a painter; and Jo (Saoirse Ronan), a determined writer who intends to make her own way in the world. They are women who are not just destined for marriage and children in mid-19th century America, but as Jo puts it: 

“They have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for.”

The film follows all four sisters but primarily places emphasis on Jo’s character who is clearly reflective of renowned author Louisa May Alcott. Jo is a character unwilling to step down, determined to follow her writing ambition even if it means sacrificing relationships. The meta brings another dimension to the film and Gerwig cleverly embeds the idea of creative ownership, which diverges from Alcott’s story slightly.

Little Women is beautifully acted; particular standout performances go to Ronan and Pugh who delivered their characters’ complex ambitions with conviction, fantastically vocalising their characters’ frustrations about the structural barriers that limit women.

Gerwig’s storytelling in Little Women is innovative and refreshing, while also handling important messages bravely. The film alternates between two different timelines in the lives of the March sisters: as adolescents spending time as a family with their mother Marmee (Laura Dern) and then as adults following different paths. Instead of following Louisa May Alcott’s linear timeline, which was divided into two distinct volumes ‘Little Women’ and ‘Good Wives’, Gerwig shifts between these two timelines seamlessly and creates parallels between them. The smooth transitions from different timelines curated some thoughtful imagery, alongside the immaculate styling – some shots were reminiscent of paintings done by Vermeer.

At the core of Little Women is relationships and the complexities of them. Whether that be the sisterly bond of the March sisters which remains strong across time or the electric duo that is Jo and Laurie (Timothee Chalamet). The differing pathways that individual relationships take is explored with care and consideration to the original material. Little Women is expertly signed-off with questions about creative ownership, ambition and the ability to step out of line in a society who seeks to silence.

Little Women is still a heartfelt story about the four beloved March sisters in mid-19th century America with all the warm and cosy elements that make the book a classic, but it also subversively challenges audiences today – it’s a film with mind, soul, heart and ambition, full of talent, and the overall product is undeniably beautiful.

5 stars

Image: Movie DB

Flo Cornall is a Screen Contributor.

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