How do you turn a classic beloved story into something fresh and feminist? Greta Gerwig pulls this off in her stunning new version of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, adapting the novel which famously covers a decade in the life of the four March sisters who come of age in the aftermath of the American Civil War
The film opens with Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) moving to the city in the hope of becoming a successful writer. Having had a couple of stories published in a renowned daily publication, Jo hopes to live from her own earnings and vows to never have to rely on a man. The young woman’s confidence is however shattered when a new friend (Louis Garrel) casts doubts over the direction her career is taking.
The film then flashes back to Jo's girlhood. Jo, Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and their mother (Laura Dern) face the prospect of a bleak Christmas. The girls’ lives take a turn for the unexpected when they are befriended by Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), the handsome grandson of their wealthy neighbour Mr Laurence (Chris Cooper).
Ronan and Chalamet were engaging co-stars in Gerwig's 2017 solo directorial debut Lady Bird, and they're just as good in this. Ronan is breathtaking once again in a role she was born to play. She oozes charm, charisma and vulnerability throughout. Chalamet does what comes to him naturally as he gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Laurie. Elsewhere, Florence Pugh delivers a scene-stealing turn as bratty Amy, while Watson and Scanlen give beautifully measured performances.
Gerwig delivers a beautifully complex film, full of warmth. It mixes biographical elements relating to her own career as a filmmaker, intertwined with Alcott’s story, itself an autobiographical account of sorts.
Little Women is a beautifully layered study of sisterhood, friendship and unrequited love, a truly universal story about a group of young women attempting to find their place in the world. Introducing a fair amount of contemporary flair to the proceedings, the indie actor turned director has succeeded in making this into so much more than a story about four middle-class girls from the mid-west.
This is a gorgeously acted, expertly crafted and utterly mesmerising adaptation of Little Women which will live on in the memory of every young girl experiencing this story for the first time.