Coming in as the sixth film adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, this latest version of Little Women may seem to some unnecessary. Director Greta Gerwig however ensures that this is not the case, giving audiences an inventive, dynamic and utterly modern reinterpretation of the story, bringing it forward for a new generation and shining a light on the power of the source material. Published in the 1860s Little Women tells the story of four sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Whilst their father is away fighting in the civil war, the sisters grapple with womanhood, the many different paths they wish to take in life and the obstacles which may prevent them from doing so.

One of key things that Gerwig highlights in the film, is the way in which the story allows a range of different women to exist in the same space without judging one another. This contrast can be seen in the eldest sister Meg, enticed by the world of romance and dances juxtaposed with Jo: a wild tomboy who dreams of becoming a writer. In one scene Meg turns to Jo and says, “Just because my dreams are different from yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant”. In this line, it can be seen just how ahead of its time Alcott’s novel was, as her writing made room for all different types of women who make a range of different choices. Gerwig stated in an interview that she is “not interested in a hierarchy of lives”, a sentiment which comes across fully in her work.

Throughout the film, Gerwig includes quotes from Alcott’s own life, particularly when it comes to her views on marriage: “I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe”. Alcott’s publisher was initially bored with her novel and only agreed to publish it after his daughters got hold of manuscript and loved it. He also insisted that she should marry or kill off her female characters at the end of the novel. This is something which Alcott agreed to do; all four of the girls meeting one of the two fates by the end of the story. In her film, Gerwig highlights the economic reasoning behind this decision, the novel was more likely to be popular with this more predictable ending. The film emphasises how unusual Alcott was for her time by earning money for her family and becoming financially independent in an era when women’s choices were limited. Alcott herself never married or had children but instead supported her family financially, managing to keep her copyright throughout the entirety of her life. 

Ultimately, Gerwig delivers a film in which every character is fully realised, and every scene is a wonder to watch. The film shows the characters, both longing for the comfort of childhood and having to boldly face the world of adulthood. This is cleverly highlighted by the choice to have a non-linear narrative as the film transitions seamlessly from past and present. With this and her first feature Lady Bird, Gerwig feels like a filmmaker for this generation, exploring and taking seriously the lives of young women in a way which is still rare to see. She gives weight to the story of the March sisters, demonstrating the epicness that can exist within ordinary lives, just as Alcott did in her writing years ago. 

Holly Aylward

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