Happy-ish Familiesby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Gerwig chops up time in her adaptation of the book: the film starts with adult Jo in a magazine publisher’s office trying to sell her stories before we then go back to the beginning of what has now become the back story of the four March sisters in 1860s Civil War era America.
What’s striking about this eighth film adaptation is the robustness of the feminist economics undercurrent flowing through the lively girls. Universally, the acting performances are perfection, though scenes are stolen (as usual) by Meryl Streep as formidable Aunt March – “I didn’t need to marry because I’m rich.”
Saoirse Ronan is tomboy Jo, the most relatable sister to modern audiences, striving to be a writer and to earn a living to support her family as well as herself when she moves from their New England home to New York. Emma Watson is Meg, the elder sister who marries a penniless tutor. Florence Pugh is Amy, the troublesome younger sister who destroys Jo’s life’s work in a fit of pique and remains the bane of her life. And Eliza Scanlen is doomed, sickly Beth, the quiet, musical one.
Laura Dern is an unusually feminist Marmee, encouraging her girls, as well as to be Christian, to be independent and pursue their dreams. Laurie, the laid-back rich boy next door is adorably played by Timothée Chalamet.
Gerwin’s reimagining has cheated somewhat with its characterisation of the man Jo marries. In the book, Friedrich Bhaer is middle-aged and no oil painting. Here he’s played by a much younger and handsomer and much sexier Louis Garrel. Jo’s choice of him does not seem quite as inexplicable as before.
Though it swings back and forth in time, this adaptation in the main sticks close to the original, though with some additions by Gerwig from Alcot’s letters to expand on the feminist themes of independence versus economic restriction – marriage being an economic necessity for most. Jo is ahead of her time in both her quest for a career and – like Alcot – being presciently aware of the importance of retaining the copyright in her work.
That said, it is quite a wonderful contemporary version of a popular – though rather cloying – woman-centred original. Gorgeous to look at and swirling with dance and music. Go see it.
Little Women is released on 26 December 2019 in the UK.