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Little Women


Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Bob Odenkirk

Director: Greta Gerwig

Even though this treatment of Louisa May Alcott's 19th century classic is in many ways a hopeless mess, the old story of four sisters struggling to grow up against the background of the American Civil War still weaves its magic spell.

The oldest, Meg (Watson) yearns to be an actress, while Jo (Ronan), the central character, has ambitions to be a writer, Amy (Pugh) has talents as a painter, and poor, sickly Beth (Scanlen) plays the piano remarkably well.

Their father (Odenkirk) is serving with Union forces, while Marmee (Dern, improbably taller than all her screen daughters) runs the house and her 'little women' with tender loving care.

Streep hovers on the sidelines as rich Aunt March and, of course, there are also men in our teenage heroines' lives, notably Laurie (Chalamet), who loves Jo and is loved by Amy.

The film starts off in a jumble of scenes and gabbled dialogue, subsequent drama flashing giddily between the war years and the grown-up girls seven years later. Despite differing colour schemes, it's sometimes not immediately apparent which period we're in and, just as we're settled into a storyline from the earlier years, the film jumps forward again. It is genuinely hard to keep track.

However, the costume and production work is stunning and the performances are all pretty good, even if the casting of two Brits, an Irish girl and an Australian as the all-American March sisters seems almost wilful; and, in spite of everything the director can throw at it, the hoary old story does still work, with the traces of feminism quite a welcome addition.

David Quinlan

USA 2019. UK Distributor: Sony (Columbia). Colour (unspecified).
132 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: U.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 21 Dec 2019