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Film Title

Little Women

Director

Gillian Armstrong

Starring

  • 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
  • Mary Wickes as Aunt March
  • 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 coming of age 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.

Little Women 1994 March SistersThe focus of the story is on the women of the March family in the years of the Civil War and the time after in Concord, Massachusetts . 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 and spoilt 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 that to them seems to be never ending. The sisters come across love, hardship and kindness as they grow up and experience the vicissitudes of life. The sisters befriend Laurie; the lonely boy next door who becomes almost like a part of the family and yet he develops feelings for Jo along the way. The film follows the March sister’s various ups and downs, personal pain and happiness and the strong, unbreakable bond between the girls that is eternal. 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 special 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 and feel that it is bashing people on the head with the message, but it does the opposite by subtly adding an interesting dimension to the story and gives us an array of strong female characters that live long in the memory. Armstrong obviously feels a connection to the story and as her past output often features strong female characters, it’s not difficult to see why such a talented film maker would adapt this classic, intimate story for the screen. 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 and all that it entails. It was rightly nominated for an Oscar and it isn’t difficult to see why. 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. Ryder is delightful and makes the plum role of Jo her own, 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, who seems to face even the toughest things life can throw at her with a sense of decency and a smile. Young Kirsten Dunst adds mischief and an amusing selfishness to her role as the hopelessly winsome Amy, who is a regular madam with her nose in the air. It must be said that the chemistry between the four young actresses is simply delightful and helps you buy into them as sisters. 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. Mary Wickes, with killer one liners and a withering eye, is a hoot as the rich Aunt March, who can’t seem to go a minute without finding something to bad mouth or look down upon. 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.