Friday, June 28, 2019

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Review

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Graphic Classics Volume 18: Louisa May Alcott (Graphic Classics)
Graphic Classics Volume 18: Louisa May Alcott 

This book contains a very abridged version of Little Women (both parts). This volume also contains some of Louisa's gothic and horror stories as well as poems and moral tales for children. It's an odd mix but I suppose as a sampler of Louisa's writing it may be interesting to teens.This volume was not at all my thing. The best part that saves this from being a total dud is that it uses some of Louisa's actual prose!

"Little Women", adapted for comics by Trina Robbins and illustrated by Anne Timmons is pretty thin. It skips a LOT of the plot, including Jo's hasty temper and Marmee's wise counsel, in favor of the romance and drama. yuck. T I did like how the adaptor used Louisa's own words to tell the story. The illustrations are dreadful-more mid-20th century than 19th.

"The Rival Prima Donnas, by Rod Lott and Molly Crabapple, is one of my favorite of Louisa's lesser known tales. It's dark and twisted but oh so good. Being Louisa, there IS a moral to the tale hidden in there somewhere: beauty and fame fade and love lasts forever. Also - don't kill anyone. The illustrations are weird and make the people look like creepy dolls.

"Buzz" adapted by Tom Pomplun with art by Mary Fleener is an odd little story I've never read before about Louisa's friendship with a fly. It's strange but it fits Louisa. Is this part of a larger work? The illustrations don't look like Louisa but they're halfway decent except when her face is in shadows.

"The Piggy Girl" adapted by Tom Pomplun and illustrations by Shary Flenniken is my favorite story in this collection. It's very much a moral tale for the young but not as didactic as some of her other stories. It's fun and funny. Too bad about the lame ending. The illustrations are cute and appropriate for a children's story.

"Lost in a Pyramid" by Alex Burrows and Pedro Lopez is a gothic horror story. The moral is don't mess with mummy's. I've never read this one before or it didn't stick out in my memory. It doesn't stand out from the other tales at all. The illustrations are creepy.

"The Lay of the Golden Goose" illustrated by Lisa K. Weber is by far the most important piece in this volume. It seems like a straightforward fairy tale like "The Ugly Duckling" but on closer inspection it's actually about Louisa and her writing. "rare birds have always been evoked from transcendental nests" says a lot about Louisa's feelings about herself and her family. It reveals how Louisa felt about her writing and the fame that followed. This is a great poem for understanding Louisa better. The illustrations are not my favorite but look like 19th century people.

Back to the gothic with "A Whisper in the Dark" by Antonella Caputo and Arnold Arre. At first it seems like a romance with a very saucy, willful young heroine. Digging deeper the dark tale actually reveals Louisa's proto-feminist side! She reveals thoughts on marriage (love only) and tossing women into insane asylums (men do it to get their hands on the woman's money). The plucky heroine grew on me but the drama in between was too much for me to want to read the whole thing. The illustrations are nice enough to be an animated TV show.

Comic books aren't really my thing. I was expecting a graphic novel of Little Women for young adults. This is worth perusing for some of the more rare gems and an insight into Louisa's mind but not worth looking at for literary or artistic merit.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Review

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still MattersMeg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux -- Non-fiction

Anne Boyd Rioux examines the life of Louisa May Alcott and her seminal classic novel Little Women and questions whether the story is still relevant for modern readers. (She argues that it is).

Section I, "The Making of a Classic", provides a brief biography of Louisa and how she came to write the novel. I didn't learn anything new there but when the discussion turned to the different editions of the novel and the illustrations featured within, I was more interested. It would be fun to collect each illustrated edition. Even though the author argues that later illustrators prettied up the Marches and turned them into fashion plates, my favorite illustrations are by Jessie Wilcox Smith.
Jessie Willcox Smith - Little Women
I missed the omission of Tasha Tudor's illustrated edition of the novel.

"The Life of a Classic," discusses the adaptations on stage and screen. It was interesting to see the parts of the novel that each direction chose to emphasize. I did not know about some of the very early productions and how many TV and movie adaptations there have been over the years. The author completed the book before the newest miniseries aired on PBS and before the Greta Gerwig movie was announced.

Chapter 5 of this section was my favorite. Rioux examines Little Women's literary and cultural influences. I think my TBR list is going to be increased exponentially! I do think the author stretches a bit with some of them. I don't think every work about women and female friendships is influenced by Little Women. What would Louisa make of Sex in the City?

The final section of the book, entitled "A Classic for Today" has chapters titled "A private book for girls: Can boys read Little Women?", "Being Someone: Growing Up Female with Little Women" and "Wanting to be Rory, but better. Little Women and Girls' Stories Today." These sections discuss how Little Women went from being a book for everyone to a book just for girls to one that isn't read much or taught in schools. I don't agree with Rioux's arguments. Rioux clearly finished her analysis before "The Great American Read" so people DO still read it and love it. I think the real issue here is timing. The book appeals most to children but the reading level is too advanced for the age group that would enjoy the novel. It also has to compete with a more kid-centric world: YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, video games all cater to children, not to mention kids have more required school work, homework, after school activities/daycare/camp and less emphasis on the arts and humanities. I do think kids should read the book on their own because the fastest way to get them to hate it is to make them read it in school! I also think readers need to understand the context behind the novel to truly appreciate it.

What surprised me was how the second wave feminists in the 1970s dismissed the book because it focused on marriage and the only feminist character, Jo, gives up her ideal career for marriage and motherhood. Not exactly and anyone who loves the novel will immediately want to read the sequels and Jo is way herself than Anne Shirley. Anne gives up writing all together and becomes a stranger to readers who loved her childhood mishaps and her dream of being a writer. Can boys read Little Women too? Sure why not. Laurie is bound to appeal to boys and I think they would like Jo too. I don't see my older nephew ever reading anything so slow or so much about girls but I could see my younger nephew enjoying it. He has a sister and cousins all close in age and can relate to the story about the importance of family.

I really disliked the author's assessment of Gilmore Girls. That section wasn't entirely necessary. The show is witty and filled with literary allusions and the parallel is a bit stretched in my opinion.

The writing style is accessible enough to be read by readers who don't read a lot of non-fiction. I think fans of the novel, Louisa May Alcott, Little Woman and women's fiction/stories would enjoy perusing this book.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge 2019

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Review

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little WomenMeg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo

The March sisters live in contemporary Brooklyn with their mother, a nurse, in a five-floor walk-up apartment. Their dad is away from home with the army in the Middle East and all the girls miss him terribly. Money is tight and eldest girl Meg dreams of marrying a rich man so she can quit her job; Jo wants to read every Pulitzer Prize winning novel and write one herself; sweet, shy Beth has a passion for music but can't bring herself to perform in public, while youngest sister Amy is fabulous the way she is but would love to be an artist or play video games for a living. The girls navigate friendships and the opposite sex. face challenges in school, at work, fight with each other at home as all girls do. When a real crisis arises, the sisters have to look at what is important in their lives and come together as a family to survive the challenges life throws at them.

I am not the target audience for this book and I know and love the original too much to have enjoyed this adaptation of Little Women.

What I did not like

  • The girls were SO mean to each other! 
  • Jo is incredibly snarky and while I WOULD speak to my sisters they way she does, I would never ever dream of speaking to my aunt to her face the things Jo says to her. In the original novel, Jo knows she has to put up with Aunt March if they want any of Aunt March's money. She needs the job and if she sasses Aunt March, Jo won't have a job. 
  •  Meg is super whiny and a bit too obsessed with the "someday my prince will come" attitude for a modern young woman. 
  • Amy is absolutely horrid! She acts really immature for her age. Her overconfidence is astounding and her sassiness is downright rude. The original Amy may have be bratty at times but she wants to be a fine lady and has manners. This modern Amy has absolutely zero manners. Her mother and sisters let her get away with the most appalling behavior.

The graphic novel format just doesn't do justice to the story. 

  • Mom has to force the girls to go to a soup kitchen on Christmas instead of asking them to give up their breakfast. 
  • There are no lovely speeches from Marmee, no advice on controlling one's temper and hardly any loving Marmee at all. She works a lot. 
  • I didn't get much of the development of Laurie's storyline. Why does he want to kiss Jo all of a sudden when it seems more like he's friends with all the girls? He isn't a poor little rich boy. His grandfather loves him a lot and they live in the same building as the Marches.
  •  Jo's reason for not wanting to kiss Laurie does not correspond to the original or Louisa's. Jo's feelings of not wanting to grow up and change are part of what makes her an enduring heroine. The relationship doesn't develop well. 
  •  Meg and Brookes don't make sense. The original is so lovely with John helping to care for Father and bringing Father home, then going off to prove himself fighting in the Civil War. (I did like parts of the relationship stories which I shall get to in a moment).
  • Amy is being bullied in school. I did not like the mean girl plot and found the mean girl SHOCKING and APPALLING! You mean to tell me all through elementary school Amy has been bullied like this and not ONE adult has stepped in? This does not correspond to the pickled limes chapter.
  • Aunt Cath. What bug crawled up her butt? She acts completely awful in the first half of the book. Then she does a 180 and becomes a nicer person.

I missed the cozy charm of the little old farmhouse in Concord and the simplicity of life in the 19th century, even though women lacked choices and opportunities, as Jo nicely points out.

I'm not a crazy fan of the art work either. The people don't look realistic at all. Amy looks like a toddler and I kept confusing Meg with an adult. Mom looks like a mom though.

What I did like

  • The modern setting of Brooklyn allows the illustrators to make the Marches and their neighbors a diverse cast of characters. Meg and Jo are not biological siblings but they act like sisters anyway. Jo and her mom are white and Meg and her dad are black while Beth and Amy are biracial and brown skinned. Laurie and his grandfather are brown Latinos and other characters reflect the diversity of modern life.
  • Meg's choice. It's not 1868 anymore, as Jo points out. In 1868 a girl was limited to her home, her family and maybe 2-3 eligible men in the area. She made the best of whatever man she chose to marry and that was it. Today girls of 17 are not expected to marry and don't have to marry for money.
  • Jo's secret isn't much of a surprise but it also doesn't correspond to Jo or Louisa herself. I was expecting something a little different but similar. I did appreciate her coming to terms with it and preaching about tolerance. Her speeches got rather corny at the end but obviously this is geared for 12-year-olds and not adults.
  • Beth!!!!!!!!!!!!! A million stars for Beth! I just adore her so much and want to hug her sweet little nerdy self. Adorable Beth is not as shy as her original counterpart. In fact she's not that shy expect for her music. She has a passion for music and thinks it sounds better on vinyl. She loves Disney movies and not scary horror movies and is generally the sweetest and best of her sisters, without being a do-gooder or nauseating Victorian angel. She is content to be a nerd. Beth does dream of growing up and her illness corresponds very well to the original scarlet fever. What the sisters do for her during her illness is wonderful and more true to the spirit of the original novel.
  • The e-mails to Dad. Dad sounds like an amazing man! I can see why Mom fell in love with him. I don't feel the same way about her but maybe that was deliberate on behalf of the writers. Here it is Dad who is the big influence on the girls and teaches them important lessons. The e-mails are very sweet and really develop the characters' personalities.

Honorable mentions for minor things I liked

  • Kennedy. Kennedy is supposed to correspond to Sallie Moffatt. She does not thankfully. I was pleasantly surprised by her.

  • The blink and you miss it Jane Austen Easter Egg. Look at Aunt Cath's ring.

Final verdict
Read the original.
If you have young girls in your life unable to get through the original just yet, give them
The Penderwicks
The Sisters Club
Littler Women: A Modern Retelling

If you're an adult looking for a good modern retelling try The Little Women Letters

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Pride and Prejudice Play Review

Pride and Prejudice

by Kate Hamill, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen; directed by Birgitta Victorson

Note: I'm deliberately withholding the name of the city, the theater company and the actors to protect my privacy from SPAMbots and other unsavory internet people. If you're reading this, I'm providing enough details for you to look it up.

While I enjoyed this funny, romantic romp, it wasn't really Jane Austen's story. It's sort of Baz Luhrmann does Jane Austen and Henry Fielding with social commentary. There are some contemporary music segments and a lot of bawdy jokes. You'll never hear the word ball again without giggling like Lydia Bennet. 

This is a story about four sisters: pretty, sweet Jane; not pretty, witty, anti-marriage Lizzie, ugly, bird-loving Mary and man crazy, wild child Lydia. Kitty is represented through Mary coughing and moaning. The only other sibling to appear in this production is Caroline Bingley. Louisa Hurst is cut out and never mentioned, as is Mrs. Phillips and the Gardiners but Georgiana Darcy is mentioned although she is never seen. There are several other changes to the story, especially in Act 2. 

Sometimes the modern music segments worked, such as when Caroline Bingley stepped out on stage doing "the Vogue." I can see her in her mind thinking "Oh yeah! I'm a superstar in this hick town!" It didn't work when the Bennet sisters turn into seedy nightclub dancers a la the movie Showgirls. I wasn't crazy about the Journey music used to heighten the romantic tension at the end but the audience seemed to love it. 

I loved it best when the actors spoke Jane Austen's words or close to them. Sometimes the line began with Jane's words "Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?" was changed to family instead of connections.  The playwright also included one of my favorite Mr. Bennet quips “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” However, most of the words were not Jane's and many of the best lines were cut out, including Mr. Darcy's speech about being brought up in pride and conceit.

The Meryton Assembly was more of a disaster than the Netherfield Ball. Lydia consumes too much rum punch and behaves badly and Mama Bennet is embarrassing to the extreme. The Bennets are more overtly fortune hunters in this production, even Lizzie. Lizzie states that someone must save the family and it should be Jane because she's so pretty and sweet that someone (Bingley) will fall in love with her. Bingley is portrayed as an ignorant puppy without many thoughts in his head. He sees Jane and it's love at first sight. Lizzie and Darcy's "meet cute" is SUPER awkward by anyone's standards and he handled it badly, leading to the rest of the misunderstandings. Darcy does explain his feelings to Bingley and explains why he needs to leave the Assembly ASAP! 

One scene I found especially funny was Lizzie's rejection of Mr. Collins. She yells at him, literally runs away and her pursues her around the stage, into the theater, around the audience. She manages to run ahead down into the seats and back on stage where she hides behind the sofa. Collins can't take a hint without Lizzie yelling at him. 

I appreciated that the playwright added in a lot of the social context. Right away the actors come out and explain, not yet in character, the type of society the characters live in, where there aren't many opportunities for women and women are expected to marry and marry up. At the Netherfield Ball, Lizzie and Darcy have a wonderful conversation (they never would have been able to speak like that at a ball) about their outlooks on life and expectations. Lizzie knows very little of her own life is out of her control, so she just laughs at herself and circumstances. Darcy is very proud. He doesn't know how to laugh at himself or see the absurdity in a situation. Lizzie refers to marriage as a game and Charlotte adds her thoughts about lack of prospects and putting oneself more forward to catch a man, as she does in the book. Sadly, Lizzie's remarks about marriage being a game are taken literally by Lydia and she "wins the prize" in Wickham without understand what it is she has done to her reputation and her sisters' reputations. I think this was a nice addition considering the context of the novel sometimes gets lost in adaptations and students and people reading the novel for the first time don't really understand the social structure of 19th-century English society. 

In the second act, the original novel gets lost in order to condense time and utilize only 8 actors. Lizzie goes to Kent to visit Charlotte who is making the best of her marriage to Collins. Charlotte is played by the same actor who portrays Mr. Bennet. This dual role didn't quite take me in. Yes Charlotte is plain but here she's has an unattractive, old man face and is very tall. The actor is able to sincerely deliver Charlotte's lines and almost make me believe he is a spinster turned housewife. Then the story goes all wrong. Darcy becomes extremely impassioned. I didn't like the change to the story. He tells her right away of Wickham's misdeeds and why he took Bingley away. He apologizes for that but also insults her family. Lizzie yells and yells at him, even after knowing that he had good intentions for doing what he did. She isn't sure who is telling the truth- Wickham or Darcy. She doesn't want to marry and certainly not Darcy! He takes off unhappily and Lizzie confides in Charlotte. 

A week later Lizzie is accompanying the Collinses, Lady Catherine and Anne to Pemberley where she has an awkward meeting alone with Lady Catherine who proceeds to insult her. Then Darcy shows up unexpectedly and is bashful yet kind. Before they can become friends, news of Lydia's elopement reaches Derbyshire and Lizzie must return home. I love the Pemberley section of the novel. It shows Mr. Darcy changes for Lizzie and how sweet he is to his sister. His home and his behavior show Lizzie what kind of man he is. This can't happen in a week! Lizzie needs time to process what she learns and Darcy needs time to let Lizzie's words sink in and see what kind of friend to Georgiana Lizzie will be. Part of the charm of this story is the getting to know each other better. 

Another minor change is back at Longbourn where there's no sign of Lydia. A big change comes when Mr. Bennet is having an attack of nerves and Mrs. Bennet is there to support him and care for him. She gets silly again when Lydia returns, triumphantly married with her Wickham. She accidentally reveals what Mr. Darcy did for them but it's too late and Mr. Bennet kicks Wickham out of the house. I didn't get a good sense of Wickham's character in this novel. He laughs with Lizzie over her crazy family and then runs off with Lydia at the end. He becomes more forceful with Lydia and I believe she isn't happy with what she thought she wanted. 

The ending is so wrong. If you like the Keira Knightley movie then you may enjoy this but I like it as written, with Mr. Darcy explaining his behavior and not acting like a lovesick fool. There is lots of commentary here on the roles of women and marriage. Lizzie is still confused. How do you know what will make a successful marriage? You don't. You trust that your partner loves you and you love him. 

I felt very sorry for Mary in the end. She's the forgotten, awkward sibling, always fighting with Lydia. She has only her pet bird to love because no one else loves her. Mary's story made me sad.

Having only 8 actors works surprisingly well. It took me awhile to catch on that Mary was also Mr. Bingley! Remove the dress, add a silly wig and the actress was transformed! I especially LOVED the actor portraying Caroline Bingley and Mr. Collins. Yes- actor. I recognized his name as a long time member of the company and dreadful English accent aside, he was magnificent. Caroline struts, she flutters her fan, she flirts and she makes catty comments while sashaying around the stage. Mr. Collins is extremely foppish and foolish. He has some kind of strange speech pattern- drawing out his words and adding odd noises, making him seem extra silly. As the actor has to quick change, he doesn't have time to remove his Caroline makeup, making Collins extra foppish. Another stand out is the actress playing Lydia and Lady Catherine. Lydia is energetic, silly and fights with Mary. Lydia loves balls and is eager to have them (take that as a double entendre). She's a more energetic, wild and free version of her original novel self. Lady Catherine is appropriately haughty, carries a walking stick cum parasol and is just like you expect her to be. It was amazing to see such a transformation from one character to the next and back again! I wasn't crazy about a woman playing Mr. Darcy. Not that she didn't act the part well, just that it was hard to imagine a petite woman as tall, dark Mr. Darcy. We all have our own image of Mr. Darcy in our heads so just because this Mr. Darcy wasn't MY Mr. Darcy doesn't mean she isn't Mr. Darcy.

The costumes are by and large excellent. The costume designer, Olivera Gajic, researched period stays (corset) and each actress had a different type depending on their needs. One had long stays, one had stays that tied in front (possibly a bodied petticoat) and another had short stays. The women did wear drawers but well, modern women aren't used to wearing nothing down there and there is a lot of physical activity in the show. The day dresses on Lizzie and Jane looked pretty good. The prints looked about right for the 1813 date and the style of dresses on Lizzie, Jane and Mary looked about right. There were minor details that were off-like lace and cameo style brooches. Lydia's purple checked day dress was made from downright hideous modern synthetic material that no doubt looked better to the back row of the audience than it did to me in the front row. The costumes suited the characters' personalities. My personal favorite is Mrs. Bennet's wedding cake hat!

My seat was in front on the side of the stage so I got a full view of... the sofa, the punch bowl, backstage costume quick change area and the backs of the actors so at times it was hard to see their faces and facial expressions but not always and I could hear them loudly enough to know what was happening and what the characters are thinking and feeling.

I enjoyed the show well enough but I've seen other funny Pride and Prejudice adaptations that were not so bawdy and not so noisy. It's worth the experience to see the show in a different light but Janeites go into it without expectations in order to enjoy the show more.

Pride and Prejudice Play Review Prologue

Pride and Prejudice

by Kate Hamill, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen; directed by Birgitta Victorson

I had the pleasure of seeing this play performed at a local theater this fall. I attended a pre-show prologue about the show, hosted by the actress who portrays Jane Bennet and Anne de Bourgh. 

This show is a loose adaptation by Kate Hamill. It is a show by women, about women and (mostly) performed by women in order to create more roles for women in the theater. It is also an attempt to reclaim the classics for everyone.

The director of this production, Birgitta Victorson, is also a choreographer, educator and deviser so there is quite a lot of movement in this production. The cast rehearsed by playing childhood games, like balls. (Balls is used a lot in the show in more than one meaning). Some made it into the show and others did not. One that did is "over, under, around and through" and it was fun to catch the games in the show. The director also says "This is not your mother's Pride and Prejudice" and brought a lot of her own past to the show. There's a feeling of first love, that Junior High dance waiting to be picked. This is devised theater, it allows for many points-of-view, making the story their own. 

The cast was encouraged to bring in songs that were meaningful to them (contemporary 20th-century music) and some were worked into the show. 

Some words stressed are "affection," "perfection," "appropriate," "pride" and "prejudice". 

Some questions to think about:
What does it mean to cast characters of different genders than what you imagine them to be?

How does the society feel contemporary? different? Hint: They move differently. There are many dances in 1813 with arms over their heads. When the costumes didn't allow for that, they had to add more fabric under the arms to extend their reach.

Who gets what they deserve?
Who is happy with what they thought they wanted?

Before I begin my review, I will note this review contains spoilers so move on to the next post if you want to know or stop here if you don't want to know. If you're a die-hard literary snob, don't see this production!!! If you've only seen the "Keira Knightley" movie version or read a Wiki summary or Gif review online, give it a try but know that this isn't Jane Austen. It's a funny romp with some social commentary! The second act departs a lot from the original story. Read on for the full spoilerish review!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Little Women on Masterpiece

Little Women on Masterpiece

This is a review of the recent small screen mini-series adaptation of Little Women starring Maya Hawke (daughter of one of my teen crushes Ethan Hawke-how can that be?!) as Jo, Willa Fitzgerald as Meg, Kathryn Newton as Amy, Annes Elwy as Beth, Jonah Hauer-King as Laurie, Emily Watson as Marmee, Dylan Baker as Father March. Also starring Angela Lansbury as Aunt March and Michael Gambon as Mr. Laurence

This wasn't a BAD production, it just wasn't quite as faithful a narrative as I had hoped. The cinematography was beautiful- almost too beautiful at times. The light shining in on Beth during her death scene was just way too annoyingly obvious. The scene is emotional enough to understand without being hit on the head. The sets are nice but not what I expected. Orchard House looks hardly anything like Orchard House. In fact the Alcotts lived at The Wayside, next door, when the story takes place so I'll give them a pass. The scenery is very pretty but not New England. It looks too stylized and computerized. 19th-century Concord looks nothing like real Concord. I know Concord better than I know my hometown and I know there are many 19th-century buildings still standing on Main Street and the center of town that are easily identifiable. I wanted to walk with Jo down streets I know well and see buildings I know. I suppose that's a minor quibble no one but a local would complain about. 

One MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR historical error occurs near the end. Jo refers to the editor of Godey's Lady's Book as a HE. The editor was still Sarah Josepha Hale, the woman responsible for "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and Thanksgiving. I'm positive Jo would know that! How could she not admire a career woman and a fellow writer even if Hale was a widow? Also under the historical accuracy note: The costumes are lovely but maybe a bit off here and there in the collar, necklines and droop of the shoulders. Perhaps on purpose to show the March family isn't wealthy because the more expensive clothing is well done. Amy on the balcony in France looks like she stepped out of Renoir's famous painting! I thought there was just a wee but too much of the unmentionables showing. Concord society would be horrified. As a historian though I DID really appreciate the costume designer showing off that period correct underwear. It looked well-done so why not show modern people what women had to wear? It sets the stage for the reform dress movement that Louisa writes about in Rose in Bloom. 

What this production did differently that I did enjoy was set the story in the correct setting. It's set during the Civil War and the famous scene with Marmee reading Father's letter to the "little women" shows Mr. March off at war. It's incorrect that he's administering to a member of the U.S. Colored Troops at this time and historians are sure to call that blunder but I liked the juxtaposition of the cozy homefront and the reality of the war. It makes Father's letter that much more poignant. I also loved the scene when John Brooke marches away to war and the Marches are standing around the piano singing a lovely ballad. That was very effective in conveying the feelings of watching a loved one go off possibly never to return. 

The acting was so-so. Emily Watson was great as Marmee, trying to hold her family together in difficult times. She's not saintly and perfect. She's a real woman trying to raise four adolescent girls alone and sometimes her temper frays and pops out a bit. She's very loving and kind though but some of her guidance is lacking. Her emotion when she learned Beth's secret was heartbreaking. I also liked Dylan Baker as Father. Father March is witty and a bit sarcastic. I chuckled at a few of his lines. He's kind and loving but not too indulgent. Marmee is still the main parent in this production. Mr. March mainly appears at the end of the novel (In Good Wives) and that part of the story was so rushed the actor barely got a chance to develop the character. The sisters had good chemistry. Their acting talents vary widely. Kathryn Newton was excellent as Amy. She was exactly how I imagine Amy-spoiled, snobby, selfish and wanting to be older than she is. Some may argue that she doesn't look 12 but I've seen 12 year old girls that look full grown and adults who look 12. The actresses not appearing in age order didn't bother me. My younger sister and younger cousin both look older than me. 

The weak links were sadly Maya Hawke as Jo and Jonah Hauer-King as Laurie. Maya just didn't have enough punch to be a correct Jo. Much of this was due to the limited material. I didn't buy her as a 19th-century young woman struggling to hold on to her childhood in order to resist change, including the gender norms of the day. Maya's Jo is free spirited and wild but I don't think Maya's delivery really conveyed that. She does have great chemistry with Jonah though. Jo and Laurie remind me so much of Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe that it makes me wonder how much Lucy Maud Montgomery was inspired by and disappointed in Little Women! Laurie was absolutely dreadful. His line delivery is wooden, his accent changes and he's not the fun, playful boy who becomes the March boy. His romance with Amy is made sweet and romantic to be believable for a modern audience who knows the only reason he married Amy is because she was the only available March sister. Amy marries him for comfort and security and they understand each other's superficiality. This production cuts out the reasons for them getting together-he gives her a hard time about her flirting too much in Europe and she gives him a hard time about being lazy. He runs off to work hard to be worthy of her. This was all glossed over in favor of a sweet little romance. 

The other two sisters were nice. I liked sweet Meg and gentle Beth but I don't think Beth's kindness or unselfishness was really fully conveyed. It's so hard to judge acting when the script is lacking. I think both young actresses did a fine job.

Angela Lansbury is one of the finest English/American actresses ever and she shines here as Aunt March. This is the first time I've seen the similarities between Aunt March and her namesake Jo! They're both stubborn and feisty, independent women in their own ways. The pet parrot is hysterical! Michael Gambon doesn't have much to do here. My favorite role of his was in Elizabeth Gaskell's "Wives and Daughters" and here Mr. Laurence is a very similar character to Squire Hamley. His stubborn pride nearly costs him his family. It takes the warmth and kindness of the March family to thaw old Mr. Laurence and show he has a heart after all. I didn't agree with the choice to not bring up Laurie's backstory and how Mr. Laurence became estranged from his only child. (See also "Wives and Daughters" on how NOT to be a parent of a stubborn adult child). is nice as Professor Baher. He looks too young to be the old man all readers make him out to be but I doubt Professor Baher actually is old-he just seems to be. 

The story cut out too many important bits. It focused on the sisters and their relationship with a little bit of emphasis on how Marmee raised her girls. While Marmee is shown giving books to the girls for Christmas, Pilgrim's Progress is cut out. I probably would have removed that too for a modern audience but it serves to showcase the March family values. Another important scene that is left out is when the girls prepare a Christmas surprise for Marmee. One other bit that I wish was left in to show the March family's beliefs is when the girls are left alone to play housekeeping and Jo makes a huge mess. I did like how Marmee has to explain to Jo how she keeps her temper. That's also important. More fun parts that were removed include Jo's play the girls perform at Christmas. This is so much fun and shows the personalities of the sisters very well and foreshadows the "blood and thunder" tales Jo will later write. The Pickwick Club was also cut out. Again this shows the reader the girls' personalities and introduces Laurie as one of them. The ending was way too rushed. I also didn't care for the modern sounding background music.

Final verdict: This was too slow to be appealing to younger viewers and cut out too many important parts but is overall enjoyable enough. 3 out of 5 stars *** 

Photos taken from The Internet Movie Database. Copyright belongs to PBS and BBC.