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Television adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel, which follows Jean Valjean as he evades capture by the unyielding Inspector Javert. Set against a backdrop of post-Napoleonic France as unrest begins to grip the city of Paris once more.
A lot of admirable qualities, but not entirely satisfying
'Little Women' is one of my all-time favourite books. Love the well-rounded and easy to care for characters and their interactions, strengths and faults and the story resonates with me every time and makes me feel many emotions.
It has been adapted quite a few times, and while none of the adaptations are quite perfect they do a noble and very respectable job adapting a harder to adapt book than one would think. They also fare very strongly on their own merits. This three part adaptation is the latest one and to me it's one of the lesser ones. By all means, it's far from bad and the generally mixed to positive critical reaction is understandable, just as much as it is understandable than the fan reaction is divisive. Actually, from personal opinion there are many admirable qualities, mainly the cast, but the adaptation doesn't completely satisfy.
As an adaptation, it's a bit of a mixed bag. There are omissions and also a fair bit of re-ordering. There were times, in the first two episodes, where initially there was dismay at how crucial scenes were left out and then appear later with nowhere near as much impact and skimmed over (like Beth and Mr Laurence). Characterisation varies. The four sisters, with only reservations with Amy, are handled very well, while the adaptation is even better with giving more complexity to Marmee and having the best developed Aunt March of all the 'Little Women' adaptations personally seen. 'Little Women' (2017) also really underwrites old Mr Laurence, whose change is far too quick, and Professor Bhaer (a problematic character in the first place) is a cipher practically, his apology for insulting Jo's literature rang hollow to me.
What would have perhaps solved all this would have been making it four parts, but just focusing on 'Little Women' and adapting 'Good Wives' (condensed into a 1 hour episode and feels especially rushed) another time like the following year. That way there would be more time to delve into everything properly and the episodes wouldn't have felt as rushed and jumpy.
Having said that, there is always an effort by me to judge book to film/television on its own merits. On this front, 'Little Women' (2017) is uneven, with so much to like but falls short in other areas. Pacing is too hasty, while more could have been done with the burdens of the sisters and how they're overcome throughout all three episodes and not just the first (Jo comes off the most successfully, but Amy didn't seem to change enough and there are parts, like her revenge on Jo, where what should have been childish behaviour was far too mean). Emotional impact is also uneven, Father's and Beth's illnesses are handled very well, as are the heart-breaking tragedy in the final episode (even when you know it's coming), Meg's outburst and the burnt book. Why Mr Laurence was the way he was earlier in the story, he and Beth, the Moffets, everything regarding the downsides to being rich and with Professor Bhaer weren't delved into properly.
For my tastes too, the score was too twee and felt at odds with everything else, and, while she got the personality spot on, Kathryn Newton is too old for Amy and Amy's burdens are not given enough growth. Professor Bhaer is completely bland.
On the other hand, there is a lot to admire. 'Little Women' (2017) looks great. The scenery and costumes are beautiful and evocative and everything is elegantly shot. The script is cosy, thought-provoking, intelligent, has coherence and it flows well. The storytelling, despite its faults, avoids being mawkish, captures the feelings of sisterhood perfectly and the interaction is spot on (Jo and Laurie for instance). It's nicely directed too.
The cast are the main reason to see it. All four girls are wholly credible and flesh out their characters' personalities just as much. Maya Thurman-Hawke's (helped by that Jo has been the most interesting and developed of the girls) multi-faceted turn is a particular revelation. Willa Fitzgerald charms as Meg and Annes Elwy's Beth is very heartfelt. Jonah Hauer-King makes one understand what the girls see in him.
Making even more of an impression are the adults. Emily Watson brings dignity, nuance and poignant sincerity to Marmee, making her more than just a saint, while Angela Lansbury has a whale of a time as Aunt March. Dylan Baker is a firm and sympathetic father figure, and despite being underused and with not enough material Michael Gambon is suitably curmudgeonly.
Overall, could have been better but admirable. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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