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  • Writer's pictureKara Chatham

little adaptations

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

As yet another movie that is based on Louisa May Alcott's Little Women had been released, let's talk about the similarities, differences, and preferences between them. This post is going to focus on the movies, but I am mentioning a couple of series to provide perspective of how many adaptations there are (which is more than some - including me - are aware of).

THE BASICS

  • Before the adaptation that most hold a "the" adaptation, Little Women had been adapted in 1933, 1949, and 1978.

  • 1994's release starred Winona Ryder and Christian Bale as Jo and Laurie. This is the adaptation that most fans of the novel hold as "the" adaptation. Other notable actors in this adaptation are Susan Sarandon as Marmie, Claire Danes as Beth March, and Kirsten Dunst as Young Amy March.

  • 2014: a WebSeries called The March Family Letters started their modern, vlog take on the novel, but unfortunately didn't have the funding to complete the story. But there was another WebSeries called The Jo March Vlog that was trying to do the same thing, and they also have an incomplete story.

  • 2017/2018: a TV Mini Series was created and it starred Maya Hawke as Jo and Jonah Hauer-King as Laurie. This was a 3-Episode series that also had the talents of Angela Lansbury as Aunt March and Michael Gambon as Mr. Laurence.

  • 2018's release is a modern take on the novel. Starred Sarah Davenport and Lucas Grabeel as Jo and Laurie. Also had the talents of Lea Thompson as Marmie. I did a whole review on this adaptation, which you can check out here.

  • 2019's release stars Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet as Jo and Laurie. Other notable actors in this adapataion are: Emma Watson as Meg March, Laura Dern as Marmie, James Norton as John Brooke, Chris Cooper as Mr. Laurence, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March


THE SIMILARITIES

  • 1994 and 2019 are both true to the period that the novel is set in - during the War Between the States.

  • 2018 and 2019 share the story in similar ways.

  • 1994 and 2019 both establish a sense of meta within how they tell the story.


THE DIFFERENCES

  • Storytelling: The way that 1994 and 2018/2019 choose to tell the story are different. 1994 is chronological, where 2018/2019 are both told with flashbacks that are juxtaposed with where we see Jo at the end of her journey.

  • Character Focus: 2019 provides a broader approach to the story, where 2018's approach feels Jo March specific. 1994's approach has a level of middle ground between the other two, but you still connect more with Jo than the other March girls.

  • The lessons Marmie shares with her girls are different in each adaptation. All valuable lessons.

  • Costume Design: 2019 brings a level of modernism to the film with each girl's personality being present in their wardrobe. Where 1994 keeps things in the 19th Century, and there doesn't seem to be any individualization in the mix.

  • Meta: 1994 has different moments that Jo March narrates, where 2019 has different moments where Jo discusses those moments as if she was writing the story - because the source material is written with that meta device.

  • Beth: Beth has more lines in the 1994 adaptation than in the other adaptations.


MY PREFERENCES/THOUGHTS (mild spoilers)

  • Florence Pugh's (2019) portrayal of Amy March is by far my favorite. This is the first time that I've liked the character of Amy March. I think the growth of Amy's maturity is clearer and "the limes" isn't her defining moment in this version of the story. Rather I think it is when she is in Europe with Aunt March.

  • I think the 2019 version provides a different perspective on Amy and Laurie's relationship, and honestly I prefer how Greta Gerwig presents it. It points out the convience factor that the 1994 version covers, but it also tackles how Amy felt 2nd-best to Jo.

  • I think Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet's performances match those of Winona Ryder and Christian Bale. There isn't a "one is better than another". The passion of their friendship is strong and clear. Your heart strings are pulled when conflict arises. It's truly beautiful.

  • I enjoyed the broader look that 2019 offers. Most adaptations soley focus on Jo March, but 2019 gave us an opportunity to get to know each of the March sisters. While we may not have received the opportunity to go past the surface - because cramming everything you need into two hours is hard - we still got to see more than what most adaptations offer.

  • I think the 2019 adaptation does gloss over Jo's relationship with Frederich Bhaer. It just kinda happens. We get small peeks, but nothing like what we get to see of Meg and John Brooke's relationship.

  • I will say that I like the deeper look into Meg's marriage in the 2019 adaptation. It shows that it is something you have to work at and that its not just fun and love all the time.

  • Because of how little we get to see Jo and Frederich's relationship in 2019's adaptation, we honestly miss how much of an impact Frederich makes on Jo's writing. We get one scene and all it shows it how Jo struggles with contructive criticism. We don't get to see how he pushes her to become a better writer.

  • 1994 shows more of how Frederich helps Jo's writing, which leads to their relationship.

  • I think 2019 handled Laurie's shift in attention from Jo to Amy in a more understandable way than the 1994 version. In '94, it seems to be out of convenience and a way for Laurie to stay intimately connected to the March family. Where in 2019 Laurie explains the shift in affections.

  • I think the minimal, strategic lines that Beth has in 2019 add a level of poignantcy to them. It shows how wise beyond her years she was.


Overall, if you enjoyed the novel, you will more than likely enjoy any of the adaptations. It's a beautiful story of four sisters and how they have navigated through life together.


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