- Winona Ryder as Jo March
- Trini Alvarado as Meg March
- Claire Danes as Beth March
- Kirsten Dunst as Young Amy March
- Susan Sarandon as Marmee March
- Christian Bale as Laurie
- Samantha Mathis as Adult Amy March
- Gabriel Byrne as Friedrich Bhaer
Adapted from the much-loved novel of Louisa May Alcott, Little Women is a heart-warming, movingly told gem of a movie about the importance of family and sisterhood. Boasting strong performances, beautiful cinematography and emotive music, Little Women is a joy for everyone to watch.
The focus of the story is on the women of the March family in the years of the Civil War and the time after. Meg is the beautiful, gracious but slightly vain eldest. Jo is an expressive tomboy with a passion for writing. Beth is sensitive and earnest. Amy is the romantically winsome youngest. Their mother, affectionately known as Marmee, guides them through their lives with loving care but makes sure the girls manage to stay true to themselves no matter what whilst their father is fighting in the war. The sisters come across love, hardship and kindness as they grow up and experience the vicissitudes of life. The film follows their various ups and downs, personal pain and happiness and the strong, unbreakable bond between the girls. Crafted by Gillian Armstrong, Little Women is sensitively told and beautiful without falling into the trap of being overly sentimental in its story of these four girls.
Gillian Armstrong brings to the forefront the feminist undertones of the story, embodied by Marmee’s wish that her four daughters develop their intellect as well as blossoming beauty. Some purists may take issue with this, but it does add an interesting dimension to the story and gives us an array of strong female characters that live long in the memory. As the story spans many years in the lives of these girls, the expressive cinematography captures the changing of time to stunning effect by showcasing the beauty of the seasons. The evocative score by Thomas Newman highlights the deep themes of family importance and the various differing personalities of the March sisters as they make their journey through life. As an audience, we glimpse the various troubles and joys that make up the lives of these characters. Many of the scenes stay strong in the memory such as Jo’s feisty independence beginning to emerge, Amy’s near death experience when she slips through the winter ice, the sisters reading a letter from their father around the fire and the sensitive Beth’s battle with Scarlet Fever. It really makes for heart-warming viewing as these girls go through the various stages of life and experience the many changes that it brings.
Most of the joy that comes from the film is down to the cast. In the lead role as the idiosyncratic and hot-tempered Jo, Winona Ryder is a marvel at bringing both the tough side to her character to the forefront whilst showing us the emotional care she has for those around her. The beautiful Trini Alvarado is impressive as the manner obsessed Meg, who begins to understand the social standing isn’t everything in life. A young Claire Danes is suitably lovely and sensitive as the caring Beth, while a young Kirsten Dunst adds mischief and an amusing selfishness to her role as the hopelessly winsome Amy. Susan Sarandon embodies the love but firm care of the girl’s mother, revealing a strong women intent on keeping her girls from becoming merely a decorative piece on a suitor’s arm. A young Christian Bale is impressive as Laurie, the boy next door who is first enchanted by the four March women and later befriended by them. On the other hand, Samantha Mathis as the older Amy and Gabriel Byrne as a handsome professor involved with Jo, are underwritten and as a result don’t get much to do in terms of pushing the story ahead.
Touching, immensely enjoyable and crafted with beautiful care by Gillian Armstrong, Little Women is sensitive and loving viewing at its best.