This Started out as a Completely Different Thought…

When I started writing this, it was about traveling to Tampa in the Spring of 2022. It turned into a book/movie review, which is really only pertinent to my book because this is also one of Rebecca’s favorite books. (We have the best taste in reading material). This all started because I wrote in my Little Women travel journal after making some observations getting through the airport to board my plane…(which is a different blog entry all together)…If you haven’t been exposed to the books or the movie, just know that there are SPOILERS in this entry!

May, 2022 (Traveling to Tampa)

I made a number of observations while I was going through the series of activities to get to the plane, and I wrote about it in a cute little travel journal that I bought at the Louisa May Alcott house–it has an illustration of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy with Marmee, and I love it.

If I haven’t told you yet, Little Women is my favorite book and I own several copies–one that my grandmother gave me when I was little (the illustrations are by Tasha Tudor and they’re gorgeous); I have the Annotated Little Women, which I’ve never read because it’s too heavy to hold up; I have a paperback copy from the Little Women movie (TV Movie with Maya Hawke and Emily Watson); I have the book from the latest Little Women movie (directed by Greta Gerwig), and of course I have the digital copy on my Nook.

I’ve seen almost all the movies–some wonderful, some truly awful (I’m talking to you, BBC). There are a few (1918, for example) that aren’t readily available, and some I couldn’t even stomach the thought of: Little Women in a modern setting (TV Movie, 2018) where their father is away in Afghanistan and Facetime replaces letters. No, thank you. Please, just stop trying to do modern-day Little Women–it just doesn’t work.

Another version that airs during the holidays is on the Hallmark Channel: The March Sisters at Christmas from 2021. This one is about a set of nearly grown women whining at their mother who wants to sell Orchard House because it’s too big to take care of. I think at one point, their mother even says something like, “You didn’t think you were going to live here forever, did you?” It also made Amy look like a snotty b____.(The portrayal of Amy in most of the movies is one of my biggest peeves–I expound on this later).

There are a few versions that I like (in varying degrees). My favorite is the 1994 version with Winona Ryder. I saw this in the movie theatre when it came out and ugly cried through the whole Beth dying part. I still feel like Ryder is the best Jo, but Saoirse Ronan is a very close second. The tone of the movies between 1994 and 2019 are completely different. 1994 is the closest to the book, and I love that about it. 2019 is all about strong women; Jo complains that everyone expects the woman to end up married at the end of the story, and that’s not the story she wants (for her book or her life). While the 2019 film is a little difficult to follow if you haven’t read the book, the energy of this film is different from the 1994 version, and I love both of them.

The other two versions I like are the 1949 version with June Allyson, and the 1978 TV Miniseries. (I know, there are parts about that one that are horrible). The 1949 version has Elizabeth Taylor as Amy (blonde and lovely–she really was such a stunning woman), Margaret O’Brian as Beth, Janet Leigh as Meg, and Peter Lawford as Laurie. This one glosses over the Beth dying thing–one day she’s there, the next day she’s not. All the movies handle Beth’s situation differently: 1994’s Claire Danes as Beth makes me cry every single time. The hardest one to get through was the TV Miniseries version from 2018. It was the most realistic view of her death, and it’s painful all the way to my bones and the ache stays with me for a few hours afterwards.

The 1978 miniseries was cast badly, with Susan Dey as Jo, Meredith Baxter as Meg, Eve Plum as Beth, and Ann Dusenberry as Amy. The biggest offense in this series is casting William Shatner as Professor Bhaer. I bought this version (DVD) and thought it would be a short movie; I started watching it at 8pm and figured I’d be asleep by 9:30. Of course, once I started watching I couldn’t stop, so I sat through the entire thing and cried at the end (in my defense, I was overly tired, and you try not crying at the end when they show that stupid bird.) There may have been some sobbing.

So–onto the portrayal of Amy March. The real “Amy” (Abigail May) of the Alcott family was actually an amazing artist and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and traveled and studied throughout Europe, exhibiting with other artists at a time when it was unusual for women painters to be acknowledged.

I totally think that Amy has been underrepresented in all the movies–even in the ones I liked. In the 1949 movie, she’s a little prissy, and then she’s older all of a sudden (with a thing for Laurie, as we discover as she’s about to leave to go overseas with Aunt March), and disappears until the end when they come back from Europe. She looks beautiful, of course, but then the one line that ruins everything for me is: “In Europe, one feels that dirt is so picturesque”. And Laurie thought that would be someone he would want to spend the rest of his life with? Sorry, no. The rest of the movies generally make her seem like a selfish brat and totally skip over the best parts of the story where we see her growing and maturing.

The other movies aren’t as egregious in their portrayal–1994’s version is pretty good, the mini-series from 2018 isn’t too bad. I do like that she recognizes early on when Laurie is visiting her at Aunt March’s house when Beth is sick. That’s the best part of the book–you see her trying to be a better person. It’s a gradual change, and I don’t think many films give it the time it deserves. I do like the Florence Pugh Amy the best–Gerwig’s Amy understands that there’s an expectation that she marry well to help her family, so you see her motivated by that fact. There’s also a better segue into her relationship with Laurie–you see her as a young girl having a crush on him to a grown woman trying to deal with the fact that she loves him, but he loves Jo. I love how Gerwig handles that.

After all of that, here are my Little Women film rankings from best to worst:

  1. 1994, Winona Ryder version
  2. 2019, Saiorse Ronan (a VERY close second)
  3. 1949, June Allyson
  4. 2018, Maya Hawke
  5. 1978, Susan Dey (I know, but I can’t help but love the 70’s cheeziness)

Did this post get a little out of hand? Absolutely.

Next time, I’ll try to write the post I was going to write here, before it turned into a book/movie review. Rebecca and I are going to get a cup of hot tea, curl up in the lounge in the Residences, and read Little Women. Again.

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