Sisterly Love

Louisa May Alcott’s 19th Century novel, Little Women, falls into the hands of Greta Gerwig, who follows up her much-acclaimed directorial debut Lady Bird with this literary adaptation. A cinematic staple over the years, it was last brought to the big screen 25 years ago by Gillian Armstrong, arriving with a cast – Christian Bale, Winona Ryder and Claire Danes among them – of considerable promise.

Likewise, Gerwig doesn’t miss the opportunity to gather together some of the best young stars around, including two Lady Bird alumni – Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet – as well as Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and James Norton. The older actors are just as impressive: Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper and Bob Odenkirk. It’s no surprise to see them flock to work with Gerwig, who brings an assured touch to an old favourite.

Set in New England in the 1860s, in the aftermath of the American Civil War, the story focuses on the March sisters: aspiring writer Jo (Ronan), the thoughtful Meg (Watson), the headstrong Amy (Pugh) and sweet-natured Beth (Eliza Scanlen). With Gerwig jumping back and forth in time, the focus is on the male suitors who come knockin’ at the March household. Among them, Chalamet’s swoon-worthy Laurie and Norton’s tutor John.

With their father (Odenkirk) away serving in the civil war, the girls are left with their mother (Dern) and their fearsome aunt (Streep, as her usual waspish self). Amid the frills and lace, this is very much a performance-based piece, and Gerwig gets the best out of her cast – particularly Pugh, who follows her searing work in Midsommar with another gorgeously crafted turn. This really has been her year.

If the film isn’t as radical as Lady Bird, it succeeds on its own terms, as a comfy family drama that is ideal viewing over the holidays. It isn’t hard to see how much Gerwig loves this book, and her handling of it is exemplary. After numerous TV adaptations and five previous movies, her version brings modernity and freshness to the story, partly thanks to the impish qualities of Chalamet and Ronan as her de facto leads. A film you can happily take anyone to.

Little Women opens on 26 December. For more details, visit here.

James Mottram