Sugar and spice; passion and fierceness



I’VE got all my sisters with me: (from top) Jo March (Saoirse Ronan), Meg March (Emma Watson), Beth March (Eliza Scanlen) and Amy March (Florence Pugh). Photograph courtesy IMDb.

WE LIVE IN a world which is characterised by a lack of credibility and stability. Fake news has taken over the media industry like a cancer, spouting disbelief in every crevice. Violence of both a literal and a figurative nature is perpetrated wherever we look. All of this contributes meaningfully to the value of putting one’s creative heft behind honouring a classic as beautiful as Louisa May Alcott’s 19th century autobiographical novel, Little Women.

This film is virtually flawless in its sense of contextual integrity and in the way in which the four March girls, Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) are brought to credible, lovely, three-dimensional life. Timothée Chalamet shines as Laurie, the boy next door who doesn’t trust his heart and opts ultimately for second best, and the broad lines of the tale are developed with clarity. Easily, this film redeems both Ronan and Chalamet from their performances in previous films which did not see them sufficiently pushed for greatness or subtlety.

It’s a tale with a trajectory that winds backwards and forwards in time; its leaps in chronology are not always, however, completely clear. When you’re dealing with a very little woman who is actually but a child, and one who is more of a young woman, disparity is evoked, forcing the audience to have to do a bit of work to examine context in order to sort the sequence of events into chronology.

While by and large the work is beautifully cast, is it the four sisters’ mum, “Marmee” (Laura Dern), who feels like a bit of anachronism. She seems both too stylish and too remote for the virtuous hard-working, poverty-stricken woman that she represents, and something stilted crops up in much of her engagement with the girls. Her much older sister-in-law, Aunt March is, however, handled with deliciousness by Meryl Streep. While this role is almost a vignette, it alone is sufficient reason to see this film.

Having said this, the rambunctious give and take between four loving siblings of the same gender is beautifully captured and upheld. It is here where sibling love is reflected as a complicated thing which can include spite and favouritism, malice and forgiveness, all in one breathless sequence.

Whether you have read this great period classic or not is almost irrelevant. This is a gorgeous understanding of sibling love and loss; of dreams actualised and averted; and of the magic of the book publishing era in 19th century America as well as the conflicts faced by women, then. It’s a triumph of a film that will give you a bubble of unmitigated beauty to avert your gaze from the ugliness of contemporary brokenness, albeit briefly.

  • Little Women is directed by Greta Gerwig and features a cast headed by Jonathan Acorn, Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Mason Alban, Lucy Austin, Finola Weller Baldet, Dash Barber, Joanne Caidor, Tyler Catanella, Timothée Chalamet, Chris Cooper, David J Curtis, Edgar Damatian, JM Davis, Laura Dern, Nicholas Deyo, Elizabeth Dunn, Emily Edström, Lilly Englert, Anthony Estrella, Lonnie Farmer, Edward Fletcher, Sasha Frolova, Louis Garrel, Lily Gavin, Justin Genna, Sophia Gialloreto, Sydney Grant, Flannery Gregg, Haley Grove, Rosario Guillen, Adrian Hoffman, Meghan Hornblower, Jayne Houdyshell, Alexander Jimenez, Taylor Jorgensen, Ana Kayne, Tom Kemp, Charlotte Kinder, Adrianne Krstansky, Natalie Kurzava, Tracy Letts, Sayer Mansfield, Preston Martin, Bill Mootos, Jen Nikolaisen, James Norton, Bob Odenkirk, Ellen Oliver, Jen Passios, Danielle Pastuszak, Harper Pilat, Maryann Plunkett, Jenna Pollack, Florence Pugh, Abby Quinn, Hadley Robinson, Saoirse Ronan, Erin Rose, Eliza Scanlen, Daniel Shea, Lizzie Short, Rafael Silva, Mathew Steele, Meryl Streep, Tony Tucker, Stephen Tracey Ursprung, Juliana Utz, Emma Watson, Margaret Clinton Weeks, Lewis D Wheeler, J Michael Winward and Eowyn Young. Based on the 1868 eponymous novel by Louisa May Alcott, it is written by Greta Gerwig. Produced by Denise Di Novi, Amy Pascal and Robin Swicord, it features creative input by Alexandre Desplat (music), Yorick Le Saux (cinematography), Nick Houy (editing), Kathy Driscoll and Francine Maisler (casting), Jess Gonchor (production design) and Jacqueline Durran (costumes). Release date, Ster Kinekor, Cinema Nouveau: 21 February 2020.

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