Little Women is one of my all-time favorite books and stories. As a child I fell in love with the 1994 version, and then I saw the 2019 version, and it was so different and unique and the actors were so great that I fell in love all over again. Christmastime always brings me back to Little Women, not that it’s a Christmas story particularly, but it feels like it to me, plus the movies always have great winter scenes. So this year, to take it a step further from just reading the book and watching my two favorite movie versions, I decided I would watch ALL the versions I could get my hands on. I was not able to find the 1917 and 1918 silent films, but I watched the 1933, 1949, 1994, and 2019 movies as well as the PBS mini series. I did not watch the 2018 modernized version because I felt that was not really true to the story. I love the historical aspects and that had none at all, though I’m sure the themes of the story still ran through it and it was good. Maybe one day I’ll watch it. I thought I would do a little compare and contrast so you can find the one that suits you best to bring a beloved story to life. (There are quite a few more versions for television and Broadway that I have not seen).
Best Jo March
It was hard for me to decide this, but I think Saoirse Ronan made the best Jo. She may not have had the dark curls of the novel’s Jo, like Wynona Ryder did, but she brought the novel’s character to life, with most of her lines coming directly from the book. The PBS Jo March played by Maya Hawke is a close tied second with the 1994 adaptation! She did a great job being awkward and not very feminine, as Jo is, and adorably simple and childish as I always thought Jo was from the novels. I was very close in picking Jo from the 1994 adaptation, except I feel Ryder is way too beautiful at that age to be Jo. Not that Ronan isn’t beautiful, she is, but it’s not a conventional Hollywood beauty in how they did her up. She looks different than everyone else and I can see how her sister would think her one beauty was her hair.
Best Meg March
How could I not pick Hermione!? (I mean, Emma Watson) Though she does look a little younger than I picture Meg, when you think about it Meg is only 16 when the novel begins and 23 in the second part. Emma Watson definitely can work both those ages, even though women on those times had to behave much older than they were. I think she did a wonderful job of loving the luxuries of life while also choosing a life of poverty for love. She’s a great actress and brought Meg March to life in a believable way.
Best Beth March
PBS’s Annes Elwy was the most believable Beth for me. There was an innocence about her, but still made sense that she was raised in the same house as the other girls. A lot of the adaptations tend to make Beth such a huge contrast to her sisters to point out her sickness that I have a hard time believing she really is part of the family. I loved the scenes in the first episode where she’s running around in the snow, playing with her sisters and Laurie. I love the actress from the 2019 adaptation and she did a good job, but Annes was my favorite. All those freckles!
Best Amy March
I feel like Amy has to be broken up into two categories because she goes through the most growth and change physically in the story. To go from 12 to 19 is a huge change! The best twelve-year-old Amy is undoubtedly Kirsten Dunst.
I think she is the only Amy March to be played by an actual child and not a grown woman pretending to be a child. I read that in the 1933 version, Joan Bennet who played Amy was 23 and pregnant, though she hid that fact during production. Kirsten did a good job of being vain and misusing her words and being unmistakably twelve.
The best older Amy March would have to be the 2019’s version played by Florence Pugh.
I just think she did a fantastic job of capturing a young woman who thinks she wants to be this great painter only to be disappointed in finding there are many better than her. She’s feminine but also has a strong mind. Amy has always struck me as a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t ashamed of it, and Florence really brought that to life.
Best Marmee (Mrs. March)
Laura Dern was my favorite Marmee. Susan Sarandon was a close second, but I feel Laura did a better job of bringing a fun-loving warmth to the role that seems lacking in all others. Susan Sarandon did a great job of being a strong-minded free thinking Marmee with her complaints of women’s schools and corsets. When you think about the March girls, this is how I picture their mother being to have them turn out the way they did. She strong, hard-working, sticks to her beliefs and values, imparts wisdom to her children, allows her girls to walk out their lives while being there for advice. She’s a real human being and not some matriarchal head of the family, always stern and working. This Marmee also has fun and appreciates each and every one of her girls and how different they are from each other in their own ways.
Best Laurie Lawrence
Forever more I will picture Laurie as Timothee Chalamet. He was perfect. He has a boyish face and innocence about him in the role that’s accurate to his age. He’s funny and fun but also has a wonderful brooding side, which is very much like the character from the book. The PBS Laurie, played by Jonah Hauer-King, was a close second, only because again I feel he wasn’t a grown man trying to play a boy. He was someone who had the look of being on the cusp of adulthood but not quite there, just as Laurie always seemed to be. And the chemistry between him and the girls was something that can’t be faked, no matter how good an actor. The scene where he proposes to Jo and the back and forth between Timothee and Saoirse was amazing. They really brought that relationship to life for me and made me see it so clearly. Is anyone else in love with the character Laurie? No? Just me?
Best Aunt March
Meryl Streep, of course. Were there other choices? She did a great job of looking the part of older, stern, harsh, great aunt March, but I also loved that she wasn’t afraid to bring a little warmth to the role as well, which is usually sorely lacking. Not that there’s much warmth to the character in the book with her stinging words, but Aunt March is always around and does do a lot for the girls and her nephew that there has to be some tenderness and love there, so it’s only natural it would be shown occasionally. The only thing missing from this Aunt March that the PBS Aunt March did better was the obnoxious parrot. I love that parrot!
Best Mr. Laurence
True to the book’s description of the old man, I think Michael Gambon (AKA Dumbledore) did the best job representing this complicated character. As much as I like the softness of Mr. Laurence in the 2019 film, I feel he was maybe a little too soft for the role, and not gruff looking enough. Mr. Laurence, at first, is described as stern and not that handsome. Not to say Mr. Gambon is not a handsome older gentleman, but he was done up right to fit this role.
Best Mr. Brooke
James Norton is the only Mr. Brooke without a mustache I believe and for that reason I love him more than the rest. Personal preference, I know, but there is reasoning behind it too. I feel the mustached Mr. Brookes look at least a decade or older than Meg, and not like a young man who would fall in love with a seventeen year old girl across the street. I know Mr. Brooke has to at least be out of college, so he’s probably in his mid-twenties, older than Meg, but he shouldn’t look thirties or forties. In the book he is only a few years older than the fifteen year old Laurie it says. Take that as what age you think, but I don’t believe he’d be a mustachioed fella.
Best Father (Mr. March) Official Tie!
This one really is a tie for me. I love both the PBS Mr. March and the 2019 Mr. March! The 2019 adaptation makes him a fun-loving and warm father, which I believe he would have to be to raise girls like the Marches. But I also like the PBS Mr. March because he is a little eccentric, loving, hard working around the house when he comes home, sweet to his girls, and I liked that he also had the secret that he’s been writing his own novel for twenty years and hasn’t published yet because it’s not ready. This made him able to relate to Jo more and give her some sound advice.
Best Professor Bhaer
Once again, I think the 2019 adaptation got it right. He doesn’t seem decades older than Jo, making their friendship and romance weird, but he does seem older and wiser because of his travels and what he has seen in his life instead of from age.
This I based on which one made me cry the most and I would have to say that was the PBS adaptation. It really brought to life the horrible conditions that family lived in and how sad it was when the children started dying from the scarlet fever.
The Best Orchard House
The top left house is the original Orchard House that Louisa May Alcott lived in. When her family moved in during the mid-1800s, the house was already about 200 years old! Now it is a living museum people can tour and hear about her life. The top right is the Orchard House recreation for the 2019 adaptation, rebuilt almost perfectly to look like the original since the original was too constraining for crew. Below that is the 1994 adaptation’s Orchard House and I believe it looks very close to the original house as well, though I do believe the 2019 and 1994 adaptations don’t make the house look as old as it was then. The original, when you look at old 1800s photos, looks worn and weathered. The last picture is the PBS Orchard House. The colors are wrong (but who knows? May have been right for the time?) But it definitely got the worn and weathered look it should have. I can’t choose. I love them all!
The Best Costumes
I love the historical costumes of Little Women! Especially the winter scenes where they’re all bundled up. I think my favorite would have to be the 2019 adaptation, though the PBS ran a close second, thanks to Jo’s little weird winter hat (haha!) I love to knit so seeing all the knitted shawls of the 2019 adaptation gave me much inspiration to make some of my own. I love the cloaks and layers of their winter wear as well. So mismatched and colorful, as I always pictured the March sisters. I did learn something fun, that in the 1993 adaptation, the basket that Beth carries around is the same one that Dorothy carries around in the Wizard of Oz!
It’s a three way tie for me! Nothing beats the beautifully painted stage like scenery of the 1949 adaptation, with its perfectly falling snow and vibrant colors. The PBS adaptation caught some really great cloudy winter days that brought the cold to life, and it worked perfectly with the coloring of the house. It was beautifully shot, better than I had ever expected from PBS. But I also love the 2019 adaptation, with its sprawling fall leaves on the hill. I also love how the past memories are filmed with a warm tint and the present day (seven years later) is filmed with a blueish, colder tint. Since this version bounced around instead of going in a straight timeline this helped to discern if it was the past or present we were watching.
Best Overall Adaptation
For me it is a tie between the 2019 adaptation and the PBS adaptation. I feel the 2019 one is the most like the book, although with only two hours to work with a lot of the books little scenes are cut, where with the PBS having three hours they could do a little more. Even with those three hours they chose to add scenes most adaptations didn’t, like when the group goes out on the lake and Teddy’s female friend snubs Meg. But then they didn’t put in scenes that are best known in Little Women like the childhood dramas the girls put on and their Pickwick Society meetings, and having Amy go to Europe with an aunt other than aunt March and never being connected to Fred Vaughn. The truest adaptation is the 2019 one, but I loved the PBS as well. It’s funny watching the older versions and seeing what they changed to fit their time and to fit their time constraints. I love the 1994 version for the pure nostalgia of when I was young and used to watch it all the time, it reminds me of my own Christmas times when we used to watch it.
Little Women Reimagined
A lot don’t know this but there are actually four books in the Little Women series. I have only read Little Women part 1 and 2, but I think I will read the rest this year. I also just found out that Little Women is public domain now, just recently in the last few years, so there are new novels, obviously not written by Louisa May Alcott that reimagine the March family and their story. The most recent one follows the character of Marmee. I’m excited to get this one and read it! It came out in October and I am really surprised I have seen no news about it anywhere. And in September of 2021 a Little Women came out titled So Many Beginnings where the March family is reimagined as a Black family. I also found a books entitled Jo & Laurie, which stinks because as I was finding these and realizing Little Women was public domain for spinoffs I thought of writing a reimagining where Jo and Laurie do get together, but looks like it’s already been done. This is a self-published books by Taylor Claremont. To be clear, I have not read any of these reimaginings, though I do plan to, and who knows. Maybe I will still write my Jo & Laurie story as I see it someday. Upon further research, I found another version of a Jo & Laurie books by two authors, Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz. I’ve got to read these! And I think I DO need to start reimagining my Jo story, before we become inundated with Little Women retellings. Be on the lookout for one coming to my collections next year, I’ll say Winter of 2023!