Alcott’s book, first published in two parts in 1868 and 1869, follows the lives of the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – who are living in what’s described as “genteel poverty” in 19th-century Massachusetts while their father (Bob Odenkirk) serves in the American Civil War.
This is the eighth time it has been adapted for the big screen and it is in good hands with Gerwig, whose 2017 film Ladybird – a contemporary coming-of-age drama – won a Golden Globe and was nominated for multiple Oscars.
Like the book, Gerwig’s Little Women is set across several years, during which each girl faces trials and tribulations that test not only their faith in themselves but also their bonds to each other.
Among an all-star cast that includes Meryl Streep as hilarious and sharp-tongued Aunt March and Laura Dern as the girls’ mother, Saoirse Ronan (also the star of Ladybird) dominates the screen as Jo, the second-eldest sister and lead protagonist.
Tomboyish and headstrong with a fiery temper, aspiring writer Jo actively rebels against the constraints placed upon her by a society that seeks to put strict limits on the role and ambitions of women. Ronan delivers an intoxicating performance, switching effortlessly from one emotional extreme to another in a way that captures both the strength and vulnerability of her character.
The other siblings are equally well portrayed, with Emma Watson as eldest sister Meg, whose journey into adulthood becomes a search for contentment; Australian actress Eliza Scanlen as the reserved Beth, and Florence Pugh as youngest sister Amy, an at times spoiled child who is also forced to re-examine what she holds dear.
Playing the love interest, and a cause of conflict between Jo and Amy, is Timothee Chalamet as childhood friend Theodore “Laurie” Lawrence.
The stunning costumes and set design capture both the elegance and the hardship of 19th-century life, while Gerwig’s strong script makes the story seem as relevant today as when it was first published.
The result is a must-see movie which is likely to win over a new generation of fans and has already been named one of the top 10 films of 2019 by the American Film Institute and Time magazine.
Little Women opens in cinemas January 1.