Little Women on Masterpiece: Final thoughts

I apologize for the raw format of this post – these are the original notes I took while watching Little Women on my computer. I am under a lot of deadlines right now and don’t have the time to fashion this as I would like. But I did want to share my thoughts with you.

PART 2

The opening snippet that shows Beth doing the dishes and day dreaming over the soap bubbles is utterly charming and so Beth. It’s these little details that I appreciate about this series.

Like how they show the relationship between Amy and Meg, sharing the same and interests in girlish things.  One of the things that is so appealing about Meg is the lilt in her voice. Meg understands Amy’s need to be socially acceptable – they both crave it but especially Amy.

Jo and Laurie have one of their fights – Jo lecturing him and Laurie just trying to be one of the boys. She was obnoxious and in the wrong.

Meg at the Moffats. Love how they dress up Meg, it’s quite sweet actually. She loves it, at first.

Amy and the limes – her punishment was pretty harsh and she was definitely pushing back on the teacher. She rather invited her punishment I think. But he was pretty harsh.

Meg enjoys flirting. And then Laurie shows up. And then she finds out being dressed up isn’t what is it cracked up to be.

Amy is so shallow. I wonder how old she is supposed to be because she is not meant to be twelve. In contrast, we have Beth taking the last loaf of bread to give to the Hummels. Eeesh, Amy’s responses to Beth’s request to come to the Hummels is so childish.

Glad to see the Hummels depicted realistically. It is a harsh scene in the book. And finally we see Beth with the dead baby. Tough scene. She runs in the rain to Dr. Bangs. Beth arrives home ill. Eesh, all Amy can think about is having to spend time at Aunt March’s. Laurie seems generous here. “A great sacrifice” – yeah, right!

Funny scene with Aunt March, Amy and the parrot. J Angela Lansbury IS Aunt March. Interesting how Mr. Laurence said that Mr. March had brain fever.

Beth delirious – sitting in Jo’s lap.

Amy getting dressed up, no mention of altar. Laurie finds her funny. Ugh, I wish they hadn’t made Amy so materialistic. This is the one scene where she admits she could be a better person, when Laurie helps her with her will.

Jo tells Beth how she really feels about Beth – this is Beth’s worth to her. So no need to have it said again.

Here is where Jo is rather hateful – Laurie did the favor of telegramming Marmee and she yells at him for “never listening.” Again, he offers kindness and she scolds him saying that he doesn’t understand how she feels and he reminds her that he does know. He is so good to her and sometimes she really doesn’t deserve it. Why did he fall for Amy? She is nothing like Jo except for the willfulness.

Jo did warn Laurie that she just wanted his friendship.

Love the music, especially when she lays her head on his shoulder and thanks him.

Jo tells Marmee about John Brooke and the glove, and shows her immaturity. Glad this conversation is true to the book including Jo wanting to marry Meg herself to keep her in the family. Honest assessment about marriage from Marmee.

Jo writing – loses herself in it to avoid growing up. She is pragmatic about her writing – wants to earn her keep. She and Laurie assess their year – shares her confusion over growing up – ambivalent about it.

Too bad they blended the gift of the piano with Mr. March’s homecoming – takes away from that part of the story. It also doesn’t show any particular bond between Beth and her father.

John Brooke is sweet; like that they spent time on him. Love the lilt in Meg’s voice! He proposes, she is unsure of him until Aunt March launches the attack and then she defends him. Cute scene. Love how Meg defends her parents’ marriage and realizes she does love John. I like that they devoted some time to Marmee and Mr. March’s relationship.

“ Land o’ the Leal” is a lovely song – sending him off to war was a poignant scene. And then Laurie leaves for college. Life goes on and things have to change.

Beth keeps the clippings of Jo’s stories, but she is not getting any better.  Amy meanwhile does a self-portrait (of course!). John is injured but okay.

Funny scene with Mr. March complaining about wedding plans. Good discussion between him and Jo about the offer to publish her novel. He is totally unrealistic when it comes to being published. Jo wants to provide for the household. He is right though that her writing is sacred whereas she sees it as essential, a tool to get her what she wants. It is a tool for her. She is utilitarian about it.

Meg’s wedding is lovely. All the girls look well, just as Bronson said in July of 1856, even though it wasn’t actually true. But how precious these girls are! Marmee feels things deeply.

Mr. March was a pastor so doing the wedding at home should be fine, especially since the home was the domestic church to Bronson.

Dancing on the lawn. But Beth tires easily. Jo knows that Beth is fading away. Laurie and Jo dancing – he tries again with her. Jo wants time to stand still and glances at Beth, but at Laurie too so that he will just remain her friend.

PART 3

Part 3 opens with Meg’s pregnancy, Jo’s writer’s block since her novel failed and Beth having not growing, looking sick and longingly looking up at the sky, watching the birds fly away.

Amy and Jo call on people and end up aunt March’s with Aunt Carol; does Jo realize how she sabotaged herself? Just as in the book, she seemed to go out of her way make trouble.

Good scene with Jo and Beth, and Beth’s secret that she cannot bear to share yet. Just that little scene made me realize how hard it must have been for her to keep that inside, but telling it was harder.

Again, Meg gets her due with the birth of her twins. it was a really nice scene and I also liked how the rest of the family was brought in including Laurie.

When Beth comments on Laurie as he arrives home on his horse, she says that he’s quote “strong, well and happy” – all the things she is not. And Jo interprets that as Beth having a crush on Laurie when in fact she envies him.

Laurie is so hot! How can Jo resist him?? I think he scares her.

I like the honest discussion between Jo and Marmee about marriage.

Professor Bhaer looks too young I think. And Jo looks too interested. But he is definitely her type. That passage that he had her read to the children sounded like a perfect description of Beth in that illustration by Frank Merrill. Jo and the professor seemed a bit too cozy to me.

Marmee is reading a letter from Amy as she is in Europe same time the couches as Beth naps and she too suspects that her life is slipping away.

There is a nice chemistry Between Jo and the professor.

Tough scene between Jo and Laurie – well done he is by far the best Laurie.

Jo and Beth at the shore. Oh, my they’re showing Jo running into the water just like Louisa did (described in May’s 1854 journal when she spent the month in Lynn by a beach). They added a little something extra in this scene in that Beth had consulted Doctor Bangs. Interesting that that didn’t show up in the book you would think it would. Instead in the book it’s almost like Beth is willing herself to die; here she has a legitimate diagnosis from a doctor. A lot of the conversation that took place in the story at Beth’s deathbed, including talk of God, takes place instead at the shore which makes sense for a movie because we already had a sick bed scene.

The scene with Marmee breaking down over learning the truth of Beth’s illness is tough but it didn’t happen in the book;  I’m glad it happened here because it’s more real.

Now they are showing the chemistry Between Amy and Laurie but I still can’t figure out what he sees in her because she seems to be the opposite of Jo; all she seems to care about are surface things. This romance happens way too fast to be believable. They had shown Laurie to be the way he was before Amy turned him around but instead he’s the same. There’s just no substance to their romance and this does an injustice to their characters. This is the true fatal flaw of the series.

Difficult death scene even though it was very pared-down. I actually like that, I think it made it more powerful. They did not make Beth to be a saint, but well-loved as a daughter and sister. Quite human.

Regarding Beth and her death: much of the conversation that took place in the book when she was on her sick bed takes place in other places such as when they go to the shore. and God is mentioned; you just need to be alert in order to hear it. The essence of Beth is brought out in this series but it’s quiet and subtle and you have to pay attention which kind of makes sense since Beth is someone that you have to be attentive to or else you miss her. They did a good job with Jo’s grief, showing how it shapes her into a better and more mature person. It is very obvious that Beth affected her life deeply as shown through the poem. Even though the poem does not show up in the right place chronologically, it communicates the message strongly as to where it is placed. Jo writes from her heart for the first time in writing about her sister in the series. The conversation that she has with Mr. March is really a combining of conversations between both parents but again it gets the point across. The poem about Beth acts in the same way as “In the Garrett” acted in the book, speaking to Professor Bhaer and motivating him to come and visit her. It’s a nice vehicle and I applaud the series for thinking this way because it gets across the essence of the message which is most important.

You know I’m beginning to see a trend in this series, that they minimize things and sometimes that makes it more powerful. Amy did feel something with regards to Beth’s death. Being “frozen” is a legitimate feeling of grief and she did need Laurie to help her through it.

In the book it was Marmee who encouraged Jo to write to get through her grief; here it is Father who does it. It follows because Jo had had a discussion with him before about her writing but it is interesting that the script writer made that choice.

I don’t find most of the liberties that they took with this series to be bothersome because they make sense in the context of this movie. With Amy it wasn’t so much a liberty taken bought more a chunk of the story left out. I like the way Mr. March is portrayed in this series.

The liberty that I love the most had to do with the placing of Jo’s poem about Beth. The poem shows Beth’s worth in her life and makes Beth’s life and example the means by which Jo discovers her true voic. She has helped Jo make writing more than just a means to make money. It has become art because it comes from her spirit. I have always maintained that Jo’s grief over her sister was what ultimately helped her to mature into a woman and I sense that is what the script writer is saying also. And again, this message is subtle. Yet another reason to get the DVD and linger over the series.

The homecoming of Amy was nice. The reunion of Jo and Laurie was a bit strange I thought but I did like the way it ended with her saying that they had grown up now and things were going to be different. It was a reinforcement of the whole coming-of-age theme that is this story.

Wonderful speech by Aunt March about spinsters and aunts having important role in people’s lives too. Jo acknowledges the narrowness of her life and she is fearful of the future because she believes it should be different. This is different from the book in that in the book why she needed love outside of the family where is here she doesn’t know what she needs. She only knows that being a literary spinster is not enough. Interesting take!

Rushed ending but still nice. I know though why Aunt March left Plumfield to Jo – because of that conversation. 🙂

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23 Replies to “Little Women on Masterpiece: Final thoughts”

  1. Good review, Susan! I really like how you picked up on how Jo seemed to be refusing to grow up by losing herself in her writing. The seashore scene was awesome! Very Jo and Beth. Never could warm up to Amy at all. She was even snippy to Beth. She was snippy to everyone, including Marmee…and we know that the Marmee in the book would NEVER have stood for that. The only nice thing she actually said to anyone was in the very end where she told Jo that everyone likes the Professor and that she [Jo] looked beautiful. I guess, truth be told, I didn’t warm up to the LW book version of Amy either until right up to the end of the book. I did not like how Jo’s hair always seemed to be a mess, no matter what (in part one where she was still a girl, it was endearing). Did you notice that this version made a point of showing Jo as a mess compared to Amy’s pristine, fashionable appearance when Laurie and Amy returned from Europe? I agree in that this Professor Bhaer was too young and he and Jo got a little too cozy too quick. And I wish they hadn’t axed the “Under the Umbrella” scene. That has always been priceless. However, I do like the appearance of this professor. He isn’t clean-shaven like many of the previous versions have shown him, nor did this actor over-act the part. While I agree he looked a little young, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that he is my favorite version. I know a lot of ladies swoon over Gabriel Byrne’s Professor Bhaer (as did I), but this fellow looks more the part.

    1. Thanks! I did like Professor Bhaer very much, just put off by his youth. Jo being messy is Jo though, rebelling against having to act the part of a grown woman. At the very end she looks fashionable and very grown up as she should. Loved this series, so sorry it is over. 😦 I loved the idea of watching it while a whole bunch of other people were watching it.

      1. As I remember Jo’s letter to Marmee, she talks about Professor Bhaer a lot and then says something like “It’s all right, Marmee–he’s ‘most forty.” So Bhaer was older than Jo, but he wasn’t really that old, late 30s.

  2. The license taken in this adaptation is bothersome and the story is changed unnecessarily. The “giggling girls” track they keep running throughout is beyond irritating and minimizes the storyline making it seem trivial and too lighthearted, as though these girls spend all of their time in fits of frantic hilarity, which is NOT true to the nature of the book. The acting is uneven all round, the casting is spotty and Marmee appears to have enunciation as her main focus (Watson’s American accent sounds stilted and labored).

  3. I have now viewed Masterpiece’s “Little Women” twice, thoroughly enjoying it and appreciating this interpretation, especially the casting of Marmee. I enjoyed your notes and thoughts on this series, Susan, and, as always, continue to learn more about Louisa May Alcott.

    I always cry when Beth dies, but, more of the heart-tugging, well-played scene induced cry. This time . . . aah, I ached at her passing. My sister passed away in December. I had the blessing of being with her when she passed, so, this is a bit raw for me right now. I must say that this depiction is so much more realistic than other movies of Little Women.

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. I found Louisa’s writing about death particularly meaningful for me because it was my mother’s passing in 2010 that reawakened my interest in Louisa. Her Hospital Sketches, along with her treatment of Beth is some of the most powerful writing I have seen. I hope that somehow you derive some comfort from reading her.

      1. Thank you, Susan.
        It is interesting how literature can help us in such times. The scene was poignant but also cathartic. I totally “lost it” as she told Beth it was time for her to move on her journey (something like that) which I did with my own sister.
        I have not read Hospital Sketches and hope to read sometime soon.

      2. After my mom died and I took up reading Louisa again, I remember crying over my mother’s copy of Little Women when reading about Beth and it was cathartic for me too. It makes me wonder how many other people have found comfort in Louisa’s exquisite writing about grief and death. Those are the parts of her writing I am most drawn to. When you read Hospital Sketches, focus on the chapter called “A Night” when she talks about John Suhre.

  4. Aunt March’s speech about spinsters was actually a quote from LMA, just not in Little Women.

    Jo always knew that she was an unconventional person and socially awkward, while Laurie’s wealth and standing meant he needed a wife who could live up to those standards. He found that in Amy.

    Amy was always pictured as somewhat spoiled in the book. In real life, May Alcott had not lived through the horrors and starvation at Fruitlands. She may have been/seemed more spoiled to her older sister.

    Love your blog!

    1. Thank you! 🙂 It is true, May was shielded from Fruitlands because she was so young. We know what it did to Louisa but we never have heard how it ultimately affected the older Anna (part of her diary was destroyed by Bronson so we will never know for sure). And how did it affect 8-year-old Lizzie? As young as she was, I have a feeling she noticed every detail.

  5. Very thorough review. I keep noticing, however, that if one reads the book very carefully, it becomes apparent where they got the various ideas that are confusing to some people..even if the ideas are not presented in chronological order. But when it comes to Amy’s character, I wonder if the people who produced this series read the book at all! This series, however, was the first one that convinced me what a challenge it really is to portray Amy. I never realized it before!

  6. Read the last two lines of Chapter 36 Beth’s Secret, and comment on it please. The difference between literature and filming is that in literature some things are merely implied and left to the imagination. A good movie may pick up on such subtleties: very good, I say.

      1. Jo went to comfort Marmee without a word when Marmee stretched out her arms as if for help, and you can imagine whether or not they were weeping.

  7. Huzzah for spinster aunts! Today spinster aunts are cool because they play with you and take you places… like Orchard House!

    “ Land o’ the Leal” scene is my favorite in this series. It was so beautifully done showing John going off to war while the Marches send him off with love. My other favorite scene is when Marmee learns Beth’s “secret” and breaks down. It made the story much more emotional. I know everyone who has read the book always says “I cried when Beth died!” This is the first time it’s really conveyed that Beth is someone’s daughter and how tough it must be to lose a child.

    I have mixed feelings about this production. I’ll have a full review up at https://bluestockingmusings.blogspot.com

    I missed a lot of the dialogue. The station volume was too quiet and we share a thin wall with another house so I couldn’t turn it up as much as my dad usually does. The closed captions were dreadful. If anyone is hard of hearing they’ll have to get the DVD.

    1. I think we all had mixed feelings about the series. Because I had an advance copy I was able to watch it several times and found that I liked it a lot better the second time around, especially when I started to take notes for my review. I also loved the scene when the girls sang as John went off to war, and also liked Marmee’s very real reaction to the reality of Beth’s illness, which in turn made Beth more real. I read your review and thought your comments on Amy were interesting, especially how the romance between her and Laurie was handled. Good points. However, I loved Jonah and thought he was a wonderful Laurie. How Jo could resist him was beyond me; I couldn’t have. 😉

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