‘Little Women’ brings the beloved novel to life

Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy — there are few more iconic names in American literature. They are the March sisters created by Louisa May Alcott in her timeless novel “Little Women” and now brought to life in a new Masterpiece/BBC co-production. The two-part drama premieres on Mother’s Day, May 13, at 7-8 p.m. and concludes Sunday, May 20 at 7-9 p.m. Passport members will be able to stream all three hours the night of the premiere. Part 1 is also available to watch online through May 27. The two halves of Part 2 (split into hour 2 and hour 3) are available online through June 3.

The new production was adapted by the award-winning creator of “Call the Midwife,” Heidi Thomas. “’Little Women’ is one of the most-loved novels in the English language, and with good reason,” she says. “Its humanity, humor and tenderness never date, and as a study of love, grief and growing up, it has no equal. There could be no better time to revisit the story of a family striving for happiness in an uncertain world.”

Set against the backdrop of a country divided, the story follows the four March sisters on their journey from childhood to adulthood while their father is away at war. Under the guidance of their mother, the girls navigate what it means to be a young woman: from gender roles to sibling rivalry, first love, loss and marriage. Accompanied by the charming boy next door Laurie, their cantankerous wealthy Aunt March and benevolent neighbor Mr. Laurence, “Little Women” is a coming-of-age story that is as relevant and engaging today as it was on its original publication in 1868.

Heading the cast are Academy Award nominee Emily Watson as the girls’ devoted mother; Michael Gambon as Mr. Laurence; and Academy Award-winner Angela Lansbury as the March family matriarch, Aunt March.

The March sisters include newcomer Maya Hawke as the willful and adventurous Jo, Willa Fitzgerald as the romantic and responsible Meg; Annes Elwy as shy Beth; and Kathryn Newton as artistic, impetuous Amy.

A celebration of family as much as it is a recognition of the challenges of growing up and forging an individual identity, “Little Women” remains relevant due to the universal themes at its core. Backed by a nearly all-female creative team, Thomas’ adaptation doesn’t shy away from tackling the darker, more complex emotions the March family experiences. Drawing from a novel that was well ahead of its time, “Little Women” speaks to current issues as much as it does to the issues women faced in the second half of the 19th century.

Devotees of the original novel will relish the book’s indelible scenes in this “Masterpiece” production: the cruel fate of Jo’s manuscript, Amy’s accident on the ice, Meg’s first ball, Beth and the forbidden piano, the pickled limes affair, and many other cherished episodes in a journey to a bygone time.

Although modern society would be disorienting in the extreme to the March sisters, Thomas notes that even today “girls are still confused about their desires and their desirability, and the passage from innocence to experience is more turbulent than ever.”

“We need hope, and we need empathy,” she adds. “We need laughter, and we need catharsis, we need joy and inspiration. ‘Little Women’ gives us all of these things.”

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