Two views of Little Women

By Caitlin Kelly

I may be the only person in the U.S., certainly the only woman, who has never read the classic of American literature, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, published in 1868 and 1869.

It’s the story of the March family, living in Massachusetts, and their daughters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy.

I won’t synopsize it here, but recently saw two very different filmed versions of it, the film by New York director and actor Greta Gerwig and the BBC made-for-TV 3-part series, written by Heidi Thomas.

No wonder it’s so good — Thomas is the writer of the phenomenally popular BBC series Call The Midwife, another of my favorites.

The Gerwig version stars Irish actor Saoirse Ronan as Jo, whose ambition to be a published author are both emotional and practical — her family needs the income. She’s very high energy, sometimes exhaustingly so. In the BBC version, Maya Hawke — daughter of terrific actor Ethan Hawke — plays Jo, in a very different way. She’s calmer, quieter, driven but more complex.

The BBC version really won my heart, with beautiful cinematography and a cooler affect. It’s fascinating to see how differently two female writers and directors handle the same source material and what a difference casting can make.

Have you seen either version?

Which did you prefer?

24 thoughts on “Two views of Little Women

  1. Ramona Grigg

    I’ve never read the book, either, but I’ve seen Little Women movies, starting with the Katharine Hepburn version, then the Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson version and ending with the movie with Winona Ryder, Claire Danes version.
    I would love to see the two you mention, especially the BBC version, since I, too, LOVE Call the Midwife. I don’t know how to access them, though. Where are they available?
    Good article, btw. I’m enjoying your newsletters a lot.

  2. Saw them both, plus all the old versions and the books were ,much-loved during my childhood. the new Greta Gerwig version I thought brought Jo to life for me – she is very high energy in the book. The irritant in this version was Laurie – who bore no resemblance to the Laurie in the books or other dramatisations,

    The BBC version was OK – a little too saccharine and I confess I’m no fan of the Call the Midwife series which I’m sorry to say sets my teeth on edge like nails on a chalkboard.

  3. Ramona Grigg

    Jumping in to defend Call the Midwife. Syrupy? Maybe, but I’ve seen them all now and I’d say I end up weeping over about 90% of them. To me that’s a sign of success. LOL.

  4. The Greta Gerwig Little Women was the last movie I saw at the cinema before lockdown. I remember watching the 1949 version of Little Women as a child. I recorded it on a VHS tape when it was shown on TV and watched it over and over… that’s a bit of history! I’m not even in my 30s yet but my young nieces and nephews wouldn’t have a clue about VHS tapes. I used to borrow them from the library and remember always having to rewind them before returning….

    Have you been watching any good series recently? I just finished Dear White People (Netflix) and it was brilliant!

    1. I’m into Season 2 of Borgen (Danish) and it’s from 2010 but it’s very good — with 3 seasons and apparently a 4th yet to come. Call My Agent and Babylon Berlin remain my favorites.

      1. Call My Agent is fab. I watched it on your recommendation and I didn’t want it to end. Love the characters, especially Andréa and her impeccable style.

        I’ll check out Babylon Berlin. I’ve heard good things about it!

  5. Susan Dunphy

    I saw the Gerwig version Christmas Day 2019-and the way things are going, it may be the last movie I ever see in a movie theater.

      1. Susan Dunphy

        Gosh, am I jealous. I prefer indie films to almost anything else. I live in Northern NJ (Bergen County) and we don’t have an indie films house.

  6. I haven’t read it either, and I don’t know anyone who has. I did watch a video about the lasting influence of the book and an examination of some of its themes, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go with it. It’s just not my thing.

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