- Katherine McLaughlin
- 20 December 2019
Greta Gerwig's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's beloved novel is a Christmas cracker
Greta Gerwig's huge affection and respect for Louisa May Alcott's landmark 1868 novel of domestic struggle is obvious from the very first frame. Her adaptation plays with structure by skipping back and forth in time, astutely capturing the daunting transition from childhood to womanhood, making the former a place characters visit fondly in their memories. Likewise, fans of the text will be whisked back to their time leafing through the pages of a treasured copy of the novel, and their reactions to the four March sisters as they come of age.
Saoirse Ronan (skilfully shifting her stare from glistening and teary-eyed to confident determination) stars as the gutsy, aspiring writer Jo who we first meet negotiating the terms and conditions of selling her precious words (under the pretence that they are a friend's) to publisher Mr Dashwood (Tracy Letts). She wants her voice to be heard so agrees to Dashwood's demands, telling him he can make the necessary edits.
Jo's younger, boisterous sister Amy (a superb, awards-worthy performance from Florence Pugh) is in France studying painting on the dime of her wealthy aunt (Meryl Streep), when the boy next door Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) appears out of nowhere in intentionally hilarious and completely dreamy fashion. Meg (Emma Watson) is striving to keep up appearances in her married life, while the youngest of the brood, Beth (Sharp Objects' Eliza Scanlen), is suffering from a serious illness back at the Massachusetts family home where she stays with mother Marmee (Laura Dern). Chris Cooper also appears as Laurie's grandfather in a heart-breaking turn.
Flash back to seven years earlier and more innocent times, the sisters are playing with hair tongs and giggling. Gerwig packs their younger years full of brimming, joyful life as they put on shows, dress up, fall head over heels in love, attend balls and dance the night away. Of course, there's jealousy, upheaval and melodrama too. The way Gerwig frames the mix of chaos and elation, strength and kindness is incredibly inviting. She conjures an intimate ambience as the girls fall over one another in an invigorating and loving heap.
Formally exciting and boldly adapted, Gerwig drains the colour from certain scenes as the women mature, turning to a bluish palette and juxtaposing it with the warm, nostalgia-infused hues of youth. The result is a beautifully crafted tale of sisterhood, memory and the importance of authorship, featuring an outstanding cast. It's nothing short of a Christmas miracle.
General release from Thu 26 Dec.