Cert U Stars 5

This joyous, moving and funny adaptation of the much loved literary classic bursts with wit, warmth, beauty and intelligence – and has a cast to match.

You don’t need to have read the book or seen one of the many previous cinema or TV versions to enjoy this one, as it’s thoroughly accessible, fresh and modern in its attitude, while being faithful and handsome in its period setting.

A sparkling coming-of-age period drama which explores the lives of the March sisters in the aftermath of the US Civil War, a fabulous cast sees Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen and Florence Pugh as the sisters, whose rapport rings remarkably true.

I’ve four sisters and have never before seen on screen a more honest and accurate depiction of sisterly love, camaraderie, rivalry and affection, while also maintaining their very distinct personalities.

Plus there’s wonderful support from Laura Dern as their mother, Meryl Streep as their Aunt, and the teen pin up, Timothee Chalamet as the local love interest and heir to a large fortune.

The casting is eye-opening considering how revered the novel is held in the US. Of the four sisters Ronan is Irish-American, Watson and Pugh are of course English, while Scanlen is Australian.

I don’t believe this reflects badly on American talent, but instead is a huge vote of confidence in the rest of the world, especially us Brits.

Ronan is very much the first among equals as the second sibling, she’s a consummate actress who’s incapable of a poor performance, and is exceptional here. While Scanlen is very affecting as the youngest and most timid and musical of the family.

Watson is the eldest sister and playing a mother is an interesting development in the career of the former Harry Potter star.

However it’s Pugh who gets the best lines and makes the absolute most of them without ever showboating. As the third sister, she has very clear eye for the economic and legal implications marriage has for women, which she points out to the audience in no uncertain terms.

Chamalet is great in a role where he is often required to  be unlikeable but is still able to generate a couple of big laughs.

Dern is soulful and quietly warm, wise and wonderful, and Streep as a wealthy widow and family authority is an imperious match even Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey might baulk from taking on.

It’s at least the fourth cinema version to sit alongside various TV films and mini-series of Louisa May Alcott’s famous 1868 semi-autobiographical novel.

Written and directed by Greta Gerwig with great authority, confidence and panache, this is a triumph which consolidates her position in the top rank of contemporary filmmakers.

While using her great cast to entertain us and the grand houses of the era to dazzle us, Gerwig deftly explores the ideas in the book which are still sadly relevant today, such as access to education, impulse buying, and glass ceilings in the workplace.

As such this is very much a companion piece to Gerwig’s 2017 directorial debut, Lady Bird, which also starred Saoirse Ronan. The actress earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her trouble, which was one of five Oscar nods the film received, which included a Best Director nod for Gerwig.

For now it should be Oscar nominations all round, not just for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Ronan, but Streep, Dern and Pugh all deserve a Supporting actress nomination, and Chalamet may sneak in a Best Supporting actor nod. And the casting agent definitely deserves some kind of award.

Plus the production design, costumes, editing and cinematography are all worthy of recognition. Little Women is full of massive talent and they deserves to rule the Hollywood roost.