Last night, at 7:55 p.m., my 13-year-old daughter burst into the house from spending most of the day at her grandma’s for Mother’s Day (I was still recovering from some unholy stomach bug). She was all enthused about some show that had just dropped on Netflix, that we should watch immediately.
Except, no way was that going to happen, not when the new “Little Women” adaptation was about to debut on television! “Noooooo,” I said, as if she suggested we watch cage fighting or “Pitbulls and Parolees”. “I’m sorry, but “Little Women” is on in five minutes and I’ve been waiting YEARS for this!”
(Maybe “years” was a bit of an embellishment.)
Well, she huffed and puffed and took her cute-but-oh-so-young-teen-self up to her room, where she did who knows what.
I don’t know, because I was glued to “Little Women” for the next hour!
So, then, may I present…
12 Little Musings about the New “Little Women”
1. Many of you are fiercely devoted to the 1994 version, starring Winona Ryder as Jo March, Susan Sarandon as Marmee, and Claire Danes as dear, DEAR Beth. I thoroughly enjoyed that version, though when I rewatched it in the last year, after having reread Little Women, I saw many off-book departures. Of course, that’s not always a terrible thing. A classic story as strong and enduring as Little Women should bring many adaptations and retellings (see: my numerous blogs on CBC and Netflix’s “Anne with an E”). But…I rather do like it better when an adaptation is true to the book–right? RIGHT? So, on that count alone, I thought the new PBS version wins points for being closer to the book.
2. This is Little Women with a bit of grit, and I like grit. I won’t say “darker,” but I will say there is more reality here, as in one of the early scenes, of Papa March, experiencing the horrors of life as a Civil War chaplain. I always did think Papa needed more filling in, and here he gets some context.
3. I was struck by the sisters’ visit to the Hummel house on Christmas morning when Marmee gently but firmly steered her girls to give up their Christmas breakfast and serve it to a destitute immigrant family. Marmee, bless your heart, I thought. You are showing your girls how to ‘welcome the stranger.’ I thought of today’s immigrants in refugee and border camps. They aren’t German, like the Hummels, but they still need the Marmees of this world to serve them.
4. Laurie seems lonelier and more orphaned in this adaptation. This, I think, is true to the book. My heart pinged for him when Jo opened the curtains to wave across the street and he was just standing there, all alone, watching their family joy at the Christmas dinner his grandfather had provided.
5. I am super picky about my Jo’s, and Maya Hawke is worthy of the role. Now, don’t throw tomatoes at me, but I never totally bought Winona as Jo (although I buy her completely as the mom on Stranger Things). I was always super conscious that she was Winona Ryder, and isn’t she too pretty to be Jo? I think they cast Maya Hawke as a newcomer (despite her famous parents, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke), to create a blank slate for Jo. This Jo is part rogue, part sweetheart, and all fiercely herself, devoted to those she loves and struggling to be comfortable in a world that doesn’t quite get her. She had me at that first glower, at the dance she was forced to go to with Meg. In fact, she reminded me of my daughter, who hates wearing dresses and anything “pretty,” and loves playing with the boys above all.
6. Emily Watson’s Marmee is a triumph. She had me at “Let Jo write in peace,” a revolutionary mindset in those days. This was the Marmee of the book, a quiet feminist like her creator, Louisa May Alcott, and a staunch defender of her girls’ rights to pursue their dreams, even if they are, in Jo’s case, a scandalous writing career.
7. Listen to what Elise Hooper says about Marmee: (SHE is the author of “The Other Alcott,” a novelization of Louisa May’s younger sister, May Alcott, on whom Alcott based Amy March. Goodness! An Alcott expert!)
“I thought Emily Watson as Marmee was excellent. she showed the stress and difficulties inherent in raising those four daughters on her own in the 1860’s.”
I agree. Here is a more realistic, less perfect mother on Mother’s Day, struggling with fear and loneliness for her husband at war, yet trying to be strong for her kids. A perfect role model for everyone who mothers: genuine, brave, vulnerable and compassionate.
8. Aunt March! Those puckered lips! Those rolled rrr’s! You think she has doddered off to sleep–poor, dear old lamb–when she pops back awake, ready to rrrrrumble with Jo. She reminds me of one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s crusty, hilarious, tyrannical old birds. (Aunt Josephine springs to mind! What is it with great aunts? I myself am the great aunt of NINE human beings now. You’ll tell me if I am becoming crusty, won’t you?) Really, Angela Lansbury KILLS it as Aunt March.
9. We have to talk about Amy. It has to be said. Amy March is a Mean Girl. Does she wear pink on Wednesdays? Because she should. I agree again with Elise Hooper (who wrote a whole book on the character, after all), that Amy’s casting as a teenager was a misfire.
“Although I think Kathryn Newton did the best she could, I think Amy is best with two actresses. A younger girl should start off in the role.”
YES. Whereas when child Amy burns Jo’s manuscript (a scene that always gives me hives), it seems petulant and immature, an older Amy torching her sister’s life work just seems cold and menacing.
10. We don’t know him well yet, but I like this Laurie. I enjoyed the way he lounged around in Jo’s decrepit writing lair, taming a rat, watching his girl work. “The rat is in the book,” I told my husband, who seemed impressed.
11. Oh, Beth, you doomed angel, you! Annes Elwy sold me on Beth’s crippling shyness, inherent sweetness, and overall strength of character shining through physical fragility. That moment where she smiles shyly at Mr. Laurence, as she is playing his beloved daughter’s forbidden piano? Could’ve melted an iceberg!
12. Finally, another nod to Marmee. What a hope-filled, faith-strengthening cliffhanger to this episode when Marmee gathers her girls one last time before departing to nurse faraway, gravely ill Papa. She is scared. They are scared. No one knows if Papa will live through this, but it doesn’t seem very likely. And then she says the perfect thing: “You can never be fatherless under Heaven.” True, and the ideal way to wrap up the episode until next week.
Well, what did you guys think? Love it? Like it? Do you prefer this one or 1994’s version?
Comment below for your chance to win “The Other Alcott” by Elise Hooper!
I heartily agree with nearly all of your “findings.” I always struggled to see Winona Ryder as a true Jo. I love the old June Allyson version from the 1949 version. Maya Hawke, Emily Watson, and Angela Lansbury were fantastic.
Everyone keeps talking about June Allyson’s version. I am going to have to find it!
Katie Curneal says
Adaptations are always problematic, aren’t they? Still, this version has a lot of positives — the characters seem less stereotypical versions of themselves than the movie version — but I did enjoy two different Amys in the movie. It seemed this Amy was already too old to overreact like she did and burn Jo’s manuscript.
THis version does Make me want to read the book again… perhaps that is the biggest compliment!
That IS the biggest compliment! I loved rereading it last year.
Cindy ~ galletas_libros says
Awesomeness! Now after reading your blog I need to go back and watch it again! I love reliving this story over and over! I thought this adaptation was done wonderfully but I’m not sure what I felt was missing. So, now I must go back and watch with dissecting eyes!
“Dissecting eyes”! 🙂 Sounds dangerous!
I’ve actually never seen *any* adaptations of Little Women. However, I’m super excited to see this one!
I had such a hard time getting past Jo and Laurie in this adaptation, only because I LOVE the 1994 adaptation the best.
Mandi Sangston says
I agree about Amy! I cringed through that whole scene- she just seemed a horrible person. I think it is much better when Amy is younger because as you said, it shows her immaturity, whereas this was shown as just mean and spiteful. It makes me want to reread the book, since it’s been so long. I will say, I still prefer the 1994 adaptation the best, just because it’s so near and dear to my heart. But I did thoroughly enjoy this and I look forward to seeing where this goes!
Nancy Silva says
I plan on watching it again today. I was so tired after a long trip I couldn’t give it the attention I feel it deserves. So far, I plan on purchasing it when it becomes available. I love it already!
I agree! Amy is the only one I don’t like. I like movie Me Bhaer better as well though I don’t dislike him. I think Laurie would make the perfect Gilbert. I am super picky about adaptations (I HATE Anne with an E) and I really like this one.
It had been awhile for both… I read the book first and then watched the 1994 version and for the first time in all my years found it lacking. Then I found out this adaptation was coming. I just finished part one and I’ve let out a little sigh of pleasure at the joy that watching something done so well brings. It’s really lovely for all the reasons you’ve stated and I can’t wait to see more!
Josie Siler says
I loved this version! I mean, I loved the old version too, but I’m pretty sure this will be my new favorite! I love all the characters except I agree that Amy is too old to start with. I didn’t see her as a little girl at all. I can’t wait to see the rest of it!
Kandi West says
I agree with all of this! Amy is the one casting decision that doesn’t feel quite right. I’m always anxious about Laurie and Jo being portrayed as I imagine them in the book. This Laurie is perfect so far!
Ashley Hendrickson says
I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to any adaptation of Little Women apart from novel form, the reason being is that it was such a big part of my childhood. The March family was there for me when my own family couldn’t. I so wished that I grew up with three sisters to call my own. As soon as the show started last night I felt an immediate connection to this production. PBS has a wonderful way of drawing you in through the cinematography, the colors and pictures were absolutely stunning. It immediately took me to Massachusetts. While the 1994 version strayed, I think, a little too far from the novel you can’t help but love the characters because of who they were being played by. It has always been hard for me to separate the characters from the actors and actresses playing them because they are so well loved in life.
I think the casting of this series is pretty spot on. Like many other comments, I do feel like Amy will cause some trouble in my perspective of the show. She is a bit too old and harsh-while yes, Amy has a dramatic side, she’s also very sensitive to those around her and I didn’t see or feel that last night.
I’m tickled that they are showing the relationships right off the bat. Jo and Beth’s relationship is my favorite in novel history and they picked some special moments to link them together so far!
Jonah who plays Laurie is exactly what I envisioned him to be.
I’m excited to see where this series takes us!
Martha Gelnaw says
I enjoyed this episode and version. I appreciate the realism. I feel what they feel. I get the gravity, the urgency, the need to be better, the lovingness. I look forward to the other two episodes. Thanks for you musings.
This was a great review! I have recorded the first part and am looking forward to watching it. I love the 1994 version but am happy for a new adaptation of one of my favorite books!
Cheryl Weaver says
I am really enjoying it yet I do prefer the original. I am reading it as I watch, week wise that is.
I think there is room in my heart for both version! I did love this as it seemed closer to the books and Maya Hawke was great.
Laurie/Amy did seem rushed though, and would seem confusing and insincere if you hadn’t read the books?
Jessica Cooper says
I disagree about Amy! I think she’s pretty true to the book in this adaptation, something I really liked as I felt like she was able to be her own strong character (she has a mean streak for sure!), not a cute little girl they wanted to play a part. I think it also strengthens the forgiveness Jo offers as she really had to forgive her in her heart, not just because she was so adorable. At the beginning of the the book Amy is 12 years old. Watching this version made me realize that perhaps she is a little more ornery because she had led a more privileged life before the war and before her father left yet she was too young to truly grasp why her her life had had to change as it did. I definitely think that could have left her with an angry and spiteful disposition.
As I was watching it, my husband asked me if I was enjoying it. I had to pause… I was enjoying it, but I wish I could stop comparing it with the 1994 adaptation. As several others have commented, it makes me want to reread it! The acting has been wonderful and I am excited to see the other two parts!
Sara W says
I was going to give it a try since I liked the 2994 version so well. I definitely will watch now though. Thanks for the thorough review!
Leah Finn says
My favorite Little Women adaptation has always been the older version with Kate Hepburn. She’s no more an ideal Jo than Winona Ryder–she’s too strong, too dynamic–but that is the first movie version I saw and despite young Christian Bale’s dreaminess, I couldn’t get on board with the 1990s adaptation. I didn’t make it home in time to watch the first PBS episode (CST, it aired at 7!), but I cannot wait! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I think your musings are insightful and I agree with them. I lnevet really bought Winona as Jo. I did try not to compare. I enjoyed it much and am waiting for the next!
I have waited YEARS for this as well and told my boys they could watch it with me but they COULD NOT SPEAK. They rolled their eyes. They huffed. But it was Mother’s Day so they sat with me and I would dare say they enjoyed it as well.
I had an hour long conversation with a friend on the road all about this and the differences and I feel you summed it up perfectly.
As my mom texted me at 9pm “That really was really good!”
I watched this one at Christmas as the BBC made it to release in the UK then I believe. I have never watched the other ones (I only read the book last year!) but I did love it. I wish they hadn’t missed out so much of the pilgrims progress elements but it was very enjoyable!
Thank you for this, Lorilee! I’ve read a lot of criticism of this adaptation so far but I really don’t know what they’re talking about. I honestly thought the first episode was lovely. I like the 1994 version but I never swore by it like so many other people seem to. And it differs from the book in some pretty significant ways, which is always hard for me! I already see more faithfulness to the book in this adaptation and it makes me very happy — all four sisters are being fleshed out right now rather than making it all about Jo from the beginning, and that’s definitely in keeping with the book’s trajectory. And I LOVE the casting. Beth’s freckles are darling and I already have a crush on Jonah Hauer-King as Laurie. I also appreciate the portrayal of his loneliness like you said; he just seemed overly restless in the ‘94 one. Maya Hawke’s Jo is also spot on — her awkwardness is forefront and I feel like that was missing from other versions. And I personally don’t mind Amy being played by one actress throughout. I actually found it a little jarring to have two people playing her in the ‘94 one since there’s limited time to get comfortable with an onscreen cast. But EMILY WATSON. She is a total jewel as Marmee — I think I realized I was in love with her performance during her moment with Jo about controlling her temper. Marmee is so paramount to the book, but she would be an easy character to gloss over for time’s sake, so I’m so happy they’re not doing that. The writing for her is reminding me how much of the story would be lost without proper development for Marmee. And of course, Angela Lansbury is a QUEEN.
I DO love the 1994 version! I haven’t had a chance to watch this episode yet but I have my fingers crossed it will be available when I tackle my laundry pile tonight. I think adaptations can be lovely or terrible but I always like to give them a try. While I loved “Little Women”, “Eight Cousins” was actually my favorite Alcott book. I’d LOVE to see that made into a movie! Though, the whole cousins marrying thing is a BIT trickier in today’s society!
Meg Wiedeman says
I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet!!! But I CANNOT wait!!!! I finally read the full length classic for the first time this year and LOVED it!
Linda Mikesell says
Well to begin with I didn’t know about this new version, so thank you Lorilee for letting me know. Your review got my interest peaked to watch it. I always enjoy your reviews. I’m off to see if I can watch it with my available resources.
Cynthia Beach says
love this lively analysis. best line: she had me at first glower.
From Anonymouse says
Actually, I have Little Women in my school exam! And I am very excited about it! I have the whole book too! I am excited to watch Little women. Also, one thing I found astonishing –
EMMA WATSON ACTED AS MEG MARCH! WHAT?!
From Anonymouse says
That’s why Meg looked like Emma Watson in google.