Little Women film review: an adaptation for now

Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh as Amy, Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Eliza Scanlen as Beth in Little Women.
Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh as Amy, Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Eliza Scanlen as Beth in Little Women.

IT is a brave soul to tackle one of the most beloved novels in English literature, but director Greta Gerwig has found a new way to bring Little Women to the big screen.

Gerwig begins the story in the middle: Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is already in New York selling stories, Meg (Emma Watson) is married with two children, Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is on the decline and Amy (Florence Pugh) is in Paris studying art where she bumps into a mopey Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), their wealthy childhood friend.

The film flashes back and forth between their teenage and older selves, making direct parallels between the, mostly, idyllic childhood scenes shot in warm rosy colours and their transition into adults depicted in greys and blues.

However this flashback technique makes some of the iconic moments of the story feel like they are being ticked off a list of what has to be included in a Little Women adaptation rather than an emotionally involving part of the narrative.

Like Katharine Hepburn and Winona Ryder before her, Ronan is a star of her generation and was born to play Jo March with a performance perfectly capturing her iconic restless energy, independence and over abundance of emotion.

Chalamet and Pugh imbue their respective characters with new depth and their relationship is given space to develop unlike in previous versions.

It is in the final few scenes where Gerwig’s interpretation really does something unique, intertwining the real life story of the novel’s author Louisa May Alcott with her fictional counterpart Jo in a way that is essential for a 21st century adaptation.

THE ESSENTIALS

Little Women (G)

Director: Greta Gerwig

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet

Four stars

In cinemas New Years Day

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