Who Adapted Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” Best?

Who Adapted Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” Best?

Louisa May Alcott wrote her beloved novel “Little Women” in 1868, and with it, introduced the March sisters — Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy — into the literary canon.

Since then, adaptations have flourished, populating the screen and stage with interpretations that cast Alcott’s exploration of identity, family and femininity in new (and sometimes unflattering) light.

Still from the 1918 silent film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.”

One-hundred and fifty years later, PBS’s Masterpiece is reviving its recent presentation of “Little Women,” which originally premiered in May, for a special holiday run.

To celebrate, we gathered our favorite reincarnations of the book.

Director Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 Feature Film
Arguably the adaptation par excellence, Armstrong’s version made its nationwide premiere on Dec. 25, 1994, and starred (among others) Winona Ryder (Jo), Trini Alvarado (Meg), Kirsten Dunst (young Amy), Samantha Mathis (older Amy), Claire Danes (Beth), Christian Bale (Laurie), Gabriel Byrne (Professor Bahaer) and Susan Surandon (Marmee).

“Gillian Armstrong’s beguiling new version of Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ brings alive the past so vividly but perceives it through a contemporary sensibility so acute that you have the feeling that you’re watching life unfolding before you,” wrote Los Angeles Times critic Kevin Thomas.

Bonus: The film’s soundtrack (full of lithe bells and sonorous undertones) was composed and conducted by one Thomas Newman, who garnered one of his first Academy Award nominations as a result.

The 1933 Katharine Hepburn Version
Directed by George Cukor and featuring Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennet, Frances Dee and Jean Parker, the 1933 adaptation was the first “talkie” of the book ever made. Widely praised by both critics and the public, the film set opening day records, with 23,073 attending its premiere at Radio City Music Hall.

In a glowing review from The New York Times, Mordaunt Hall wrote, “The film begins in a gentle fashion and slips away smoothly without any forced attempt to help the finish to linger in the minds of the audience. ‘Little Women’ is just as honest in its story as Jo’s nature.”

The 1978 Television Adaptation
Talk about small screen star power. The 1978 TV adaptation of “Little Women” brought together Susan Dey from “The Partridge Family,” Meredith Baxter Birney from “Family Ties,” Eve Plumb from “The Brady Bunch” and William Shatner from “Star Trek.”

The filmed-for-television version was released in two parts and met with a lukewarm response that hasn’t improved over time. Regardless, Shatner’s performance as Professor Bhaer makes a fascinating study.

The Forthcoming 2019 Remake
The next iteration of “Little Women” (and a speculative favorite) is set to hit screens in 2019, and this time, Greta Gerwig is at the helm. Currently taping in Boston, the new film has already received considerable buzz around its cast, which includes Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Timothée Chalamet.

Watson, who will be playing Meg, shared a photograph of the March sisters (plus Gerwig and Chalamet) as a preview for what’s to come.


Top Image: Lobby card for the 1933 film adaptation of "Little Women."