Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Florence Pugh, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Bob Odenkirk
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation honours Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved book while boasting a vital and contemporary feel. Ronan is first among equals as wannabe writer Jo, one of four teenage girl siblings living with their kindly mother Marmee (Dern) in a genteel but shabby house in Massachusetts during the American Civil War. Their father (Odenkirk) is a pastor working away on the front. The other siblings are Meg, the eldest (Watson); Beth (Scanlen), the musical one; and Amy (Pugh), the impulsive and petulant artist. Chalamet is the literal boy-next-door Laurie who is besotted with Jo. In a clever meta touch Gerwig works details of the writer’s life into the narrative while imbuing the story with a more stridently feminist tone, as Alcott surrogate Jo pitches the ‘Little Women’ story to a local publisher (Tracy Letts, the amusing personification of a dismissive stuffy patriarch) who, while admiring Jo’s story, insists that the heroine must be married by the end ‘or dead’. The director shakes off stuffy period picture conventions, via deft juggling of the chronology and jaunty direction, and the cast are uniformly excellent.