A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Little Women is based on Louisa May Alcott's classic novel. The story is set in the 1860s during the Civil War, so the realities of illness, death, and poverty creep into the emotional tale. One main character is a forward-thinking young woman who challenges gender norms of the time, to the confusion and chagrin of the more traditional characters around her. Another suffers a life-threatening illness, which causes her family much sadness. Alcott's beloved story is known for its prominent themes of family, loyalty, and perseverance, and this interpretation uses all of those for a tale that tugs at the heartstrings but also features strong female roles, messages celebrating individuality, and realistic emotion as the characters cope with struggle and loss.
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What's the story?
LITTLE WOMEN revisits Louisa May Alcott's classic tale of the March family in 19th century New England. As the Civil War rages on farther south, the four March sisters -- Meg (Willa Fitzgerald), Jo (Maya Hawke), Beth (Annes Elwy), and Amy (Kathryn Newton) -- preserve their home with dwindling resources and weather their father's absence with their mother, Marmee (Emily Watson). When a handsome young man (Jonah Hauer-King) moves in next door and befriends them, he takes a liking to Jo, but her feisty and independent nature keeps distance between them. Meanwhile, Meg finds a suitor of her own, reclusive Beth tries to break out of her shell, and impetuous Amy forges her way out of the shadows of her older sisters. As time passes and the Marches suffer losses, their devotion to each other becomes even more important.
Is it any good?
This interpretation of Alcott's work is beautifully and creatively adapted. Its ensemble cast is impeccably suited to their respective roles, with a notable performance by Angela Lansbury as the sharp-tongued Aunt March, and the welcome presence of Michael Gambon as the Marches' neighbor, Mr. Lawrence. Hawke's Jo is divine, expertly treading the thin line between feminine futurist and troublemaker, and ever delighting viewers with ideas that challenge the norms of her time and are more in line with the feminine experience of today. This series' use of music and transitionary scenes of nature are nontraditional, but they give this version a flair that's distinct from those before it.
What this version of Little Women doesn't tamper with is Alcott's emphasis on family relationships, overcoming struggles, perseverance, coping with loss, and finding yourself. The characters' individual evolutions are stories unto themselves, and juxtaposing them creates a tapestry of representations of life and love as experienced by different people with varying personalities. Because of the richness of the emotions experienced, this series is great for a teen audience, but its compelling storytelling is a worthwhile choice for parents to watch alongside them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this take on the classic story compares to others before it and to Alcott's book. If you're familiar with several, which is your favorite and why? Does this Little Women feel too modern? How do period dramas use costumes and dialogue to set a different scene than the current one?
What are this story's messages about siblings and family relationships? Are they always happy and joyful? What outside influences can affect these relationships? Can you relate to any of the squabbles that erupt among the March sisters? What about the genuine affection they share?
This story boasts several strong female characters, all for different reasons. Do you have a favorite? What qualities do you most admire in her? How do the characters demonstrate perseverance, teamwork, self-control, and other life skills?
- Premiere date: May 13, 2018
- Cast: Emily Watson, Willa Fitzgerald, Maya Hawke
- Network: PBS
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Perseverance, Self-control, Teamwork
- TV rating: TV-14
- Available on: DVD, Streaming
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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