One of my most-anticipated movies of 2019 is Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel and the follow-up to Gerwig’s terrific Lady Bird. Vanity Fair now has a first look at the movie, and while it looks like a period piece, Gerwig cautions that getting to the reality of the situation means acknowledging how the setting is “modern” for its characters:
Gerwig shot on location in the book’s Massachusetts setting, where Alcott and her three sisters grew up. The director researched locations that the family could have inhabited, and in some cases, ones they really did—like the schoolhouse where Alcott’s firebrand father, Bronson, taught. “It gives gravity to what you’re doing,” Ronan says. “The physical place really reminds you of the story you’re trying to tell.” Gerwig also relied on paintings from the era, to give the film a vividness that the black-and-white and sepia portraits of the era couldn’t accomplish. An 1870 painting by Winslow Homer called High Tide created the texture for the beach scene; costume designer Jacqueline Durran modeled Jo’s look after a figure in the work.
“They were just people. They were not in a period piece, they were just living,” Gerwig says. “They were the most modern people who had ever existed, up till that point.”
This new adaptation will draw not just on the book but on Alcott’s personal experiences:
We wanted to explore as much of Louisa’s real story as we could,” Ronan says. Gerwig discovered that the Alcotts were in much more dire financial straits than the “genteel poverty” of the March sisters. Alcott was out working at the age of 15, and growing up in Boston, the family moved something like 30 times. “Her life was a lot darker than what she allowed for in the book,” she added. That lens adds drama to the moments when the March sisters step into a world of luxury.
While this isn’t a radical new adaptation, it looks like Gerwig’s take will be significantly different than the 1933 version staring Katharine Hepburn or the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. I can’t wait to see it.
Little Women opens December 25th and stars Saorise Ronan, Timothee Chalamet, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep.