As the date for Little Women on Masterpiece nears, I wanted to share a few thoughts on this three-part series (hopefully without giving away spoilers). I was fortunate to have received an advance copy from Laura Garvey of WGBH in Boston and for that, I am grateful.
Reactions from across the sea
A lot of us have read the comments from viewers in Great Britain who saw it over Christmas. The wide variety of opinion was fascinating with the pendulum swinging back and forth between those who loved it and those who were critical of it. I don’t think anybody was neutral about it!
A very special story
I wondered why reaction was so strong until I came to realize that Little Women is a unique book, drawing a strong personal response from its many readers. So many of us grew up with the story as our mothers, aunts and grandmothers passed down their well-loved heirlooms to us.
The majority of readers are vested in the character of Jo March. Through their encounter with Jo, they realized they had met a soul sister, someone who dared to imagine a life beyond the status quo. Big-hearted Jo was a non-conformist who had trouble fitting in and struggled with her anger. Her castle in the air was grand and ambitious; she gave us permission not only to dream, but to fight for that dream.
What was I missing?
I admit that I come into all this from a different point of view. I did not read the book until I was in my mid-50s. Even after reading it twice and then writing about it, I was aware that I was missing something. I enjoyed it very much but I could not seem to grasp its true importance. And Jo March never was my favorite character. By not being so personally attached to this book, I was able to watch the series with an open mind. Having eluded me in the past, the significance of Little Women is finally clear to me.
A quick review
Without giving away the particulars, I found this series to be outstanding. Yes, there were flaws (and one in particular was serious). But as I had the luxury to watch the series more than once (pouring over it and taking notes) I can assure you that one viewing will never be enough. There is a lot going on beneath the surface that will be missed when you see it for the first time. I highly recommend buying the DVD and watching it on your computer or TV with headphones on so that you won’t miss a single moment. It’s these subtle details that make this adaptation of Little Women so rich, fleshed out and full.
A final thought
If I may, I like to recommend leaving behind expectations about what you think this series ought to be. Be open to new interpretations. Despite some creative license taken, this is I believe is the most authentic representation of Little Women to date. It is beautifully filmed with simple and haunting music. The casting is perfect and the acting, excellent. At times it is raw and gritty in its realism. At other times it is very intimate.
PBS’s interview with screenwriter Heidi Thomas is a wonderful prelude to this series. Thomas goes into great detail (and with great eloquence) on how she felt about the book and why she made the decisions she made with regards both to the script and who was chosen to play these iconic characters.
You can listen to the interview here:
The PBS website is hosting a series of podcasts about the series:
Mark your calendars: We’ve got an exciting line-up of new MASTERPIECE Studio podcast episodes featuring interviews with the cast and writer of Little Women!
Listen and subscribe for free:https://to.pbs.org/2FtK2qL
Wishing you were here
I will watch it for the third time beginning on May 13th and think of all of you, wishing we could all be in the same room together enjoying this special time.
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