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Alcott's Famous Sisters: Little Women

Updated on April 12, 2020


Little Women takes place over the course of several years during and after the Civil War. It's a time where four sisters come of age in Massachusetts. The oldest sister, Jo (Saoirse Ronan), aspires to be a writer. The second sister, Meg (Emma Watson) when she meets John Brooke (James Norton), the tutor to March neighbor Laurie Laurence (Timothee Chalamet). Meg herself would also go into teaching. Laurie has eyes for Jo, but Jo's sister Amy (Floreice Pugh) has a crush on Laurie, despite being a few years than either Jo or Laurie. Sister Beth (Eliza Scanlen) enjoys playing piano, and is eventually allowed access to the piano to the widowed Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper), who's Laurie's grandfather. While Mr. March (Bob Odenkirk) fights with the Union forces, his wife Marmee (Laura Dern) teaches the girls responsibility to themselves and others.

The girls also get advice from Aunt March (Meryl Streep), who never married but still wishes the siblings marry into the sort of wealth she has. When she travels to her second home in Paris, she offers to take Jo with her, but Amy goes instead. Jo's writing aspirations take her to New York, where the editor Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts) accepts some material she has written while offering constructive criticism. Professor friend Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel) also reads her works and offers his views while secretly hoping she might take interest in him personally. Laurie expresses his interest, but Jo doesn't see things his way. While war, scarlet fever, and sibling rivalry affect the March family, Mr. Dashwood takes particular interest on the stories Jo has written loosely based on her real life.


Little Women, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott, has been adapted to the big screen five times during the sound era. These films include a 2018 version that puts the March sisters in a contemporary setting. Scenarist-director Greta Gerwig sticks to Alcott's original time setting, and creates a film rich in detail, and remains faithful to the time period. For example, Beth plays a Schubert piece when in the Laurence home. Dashwood's employer is Roberts Brothers, who actually published the Alcott novel upon its initial release. I also like that Gerwig doesn't tell the story in a linear fashion, as that method helps to show Jo's rise as a writer, and the effect her ambition has upon her family and friends. While the March sisters may be a product of the nineteenth century, they exhibit the qualities of strength and confidence that any person should strive to achieve. While the only other film version of Little Women I've seen was Gillian Armstrong's exceptional 1994 release, Gerwig has made an adaptation that is just as exceptional as Armstrong's. Gerwig's second film in the director's chair is even better than her first film, the semi-autobiographical Lady Bird.

The ensemble brings an irresistible appeal as they go through the ups and downs of life. Ronan, who also starred in Lady Bird, shows Jo as a woman devoted as much to her writing as she devotes herself to her family. When she learns Beth is ill, Jo leaves New York to help care for her sibling. While she doesn't put romantic interests first, she finds that Laurie and Friedrich aren't far from her mind. Watson doesn't listen to her rich aunt, but finds her happiness in teaching. Pugh shows Amy is very much like Jo in terms of interest in the arts and interest in Laurie. Amy, though, has different priorities than Jo, and has an edge in decisiveness. Scanlen shows sensitivity as Beth, who not only loves her music, but treasures the stories that the elder Laurence tells her. Chalamet is the ever-respectful Laurie, who watches out for the March sisters almost as much their parents. Letts is fun as Dashwood, an editor who guides Jo on the path to success as an unexpected source guides him. Streep, Dern, and Cooper bring dignity in their supporting work.


Little Women presents the tale of a family and their friends that transcends their time. They know what they want, but they also understand their goals do not come with a guarantee. The strongest asset they have is one another. Even when they are not there in person, they are there in spirit. With such support, none of them are ever truly alone. The Marches and those who care about them are not unlike people that any of us know today. We are not always people who agree on every little thing, but we should always care about those who know and care about us most of all.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Little Women four stars. A tale about the way we wish families could always be.

Little Women trailer

© 2020 Pat Mills


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