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  Little Women The Road To Emancipation
Year: 2019
Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalomet, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Jayne Houdyshell, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep, Rafael Silva, Mason Alban, Emily Edström, Maryann Plunkett
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) has ambitions to be a writer, and has been practicing the art ever since she was a little girl; she does, after all, hail from an artistic family. She is the writer, and her sisters are similarly inclined and talented: Meg (Emma Watson) is the actress, Amy (Florence Pugh) is the painter, and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) plays music, specifically the piano. But Jo feels she can go further than her siblings as far as success, and after winning an award or two for her writing, she approaches a publisher with one of her short stories and has it accepted, with alterations. It seems there are rules to what readers want to buy, and tales for women where the heroine stays single and happy are a no-no...

That lesson at the beginning would appear to be setting up a serious case of having her cake and eating it too, but writer and director Greta Gerwig, adapting Louisa May Alcott's famous nineteenth century novel, had studied Alcott's life and being an admirer of the text as well as the woman, wished to pay tribute to her. This was the reason this version drew up two endings for the story, one faithful to the page and the other to the author's original intentions, but which she had to alter to get it published. The question of whether it would have been the enduring hit it was had she not changed her denouement, and spawned a number of sequels, was not addressed by Gerwig.

Because, well, who knows? But it was an indication this was not going to be a retread of the Gillian Armstrong version from 1994, which was just as well for that was a long-standing favourite of the book's many fans, and considered a seasonal fixture for them come Christmastime. The festive season featured in this one as well, but not so prominently, it was more the passing of the seasons that marked the passing of time, handy when the plot flitted around Alcott's storyline to gradually fill in the gaps so we could see how Jo and her sisters reached their destinations, though in effect a little like tinkering with what did not really need it; some found this confusing, but watch the seasons.

Acting honours went to Ronan and Pugh, with everyone else serviceable if unspectacular. If it was possible for this to have two hearts, they belonged to Jo and Amy, essentially thanks to two big speeches they were given. Although this took a while to warm up, with too much breathlessly overeager twittering in place of character, once it did, thanks to those two stars it was very strong indeed, so much so that you kind of wished they had dispensed with most of the first half hour and cut to the chase. Amy offered us the historical context, that even in the nineteenth century in America (and not solely there) women were considered property rather than individuals, hence those two girls' scepticism about marriage, but Jo aimed for the emotion in her discussion with her mother (Laura Dern, all sympathy and understanding).

Ronan's moment to shine was somewhat spoiled by the scene being heavily promoted in the publicity - they knew what a gem of acting it was and decided to flog it for all it was worth, but if you had been following the publicity trail of the movie then you could practically recite it along with her. That was a pity, for it cleverly summed up the dichotomy of self-expression and needing companionship, which Jo has trouble reconciling, hence she is "so lonely", yet this did not quite tie up with her independent spirit at the very end, a slight downside of trying to improve on literature to suit the prevailing mood of the time the remake was crafted in. Other than that, this was a handsomely-shot adaptation which was patently bending over backwards to do justice to many aspects of the feminine, and to an extent even with that ambitious goal it achieved what it set out to do. But check out the March sisters' dad - not who you would expect, maybe too much baggage. Music by Alexandre Desplat.

[Featurettes a-plenty on Sony's Blu-ray, everything you would want to know, within reason.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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