Thursday 19 December 2019


Sony Pictures

Fact: I will never not cry watching Little Women. Whether it’s the treacly sweet 1949 version starring June Allyson and a young Elizabeth Taylor, or Gillian Armstrong’s near-perfect 1994 adaptation with a fierce Winona Ryder, tears will be shed for the trials, triumphs, losses and joys of the March family of Concord, Connecticut.

And so it is with the latest screen iteration of the American classic. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), this version of Little Women gives the tear ducts a good workout even as it jumbles the now-familiar storyline to provide a fresh take on the travails of Miss Josephine March; Saoirse Ronan a more than admirable addition to those – Allyson, Ryder, and Katharine Hepburn in 1933 – who have previously portrayed the headstrong, second eldest March daughter.

Some may bristle at this tampering with the timeline, so ingrained are the story beats of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, but with Armstrong’s version still so strong in many people’s minds (has it really been 25 years?), Gerwig was wise to mix things up.

That may mean events, like its heroine, unfold at a breathless pace, and some elements – Jo’s friendship-cum-romance with German émigré Professor Bhaer (Louis Garrel) – may not have quite the same emotional impact, but all in all, this Little Women is both faithful and fresh. Emma Watson (Meg), Eliza Scanlen (Beth), and especially Florence Pugh (Amy) make their mark as Jo’s siblings, as does Timothee Chalamet as Laurie, the March sisters’ neighbour, proxy brother, attempted suitor and eventual husband/brother-in-law. Laura Dern makes for a suitable Marmee, though not as memorable as Susan Sarandon’s take in the ’94 version; much more successful is Meryl Streep with her exasperated eye-rolls as the rich but withered Aunt March.

2019 has not been a great year, even less so in the last month; Little Women is a timely salve for the heart and soul. And, as it opens in Australia on New Year’s Day, the perfect way to begin a new year and new decade. Yes, there will be tears but mostly happy ones.

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