Little Women (1994 film)

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Little Women
Little women poster.jpg
Original film poster
Directed by Gillian Armstrong
Produced by Denise Di Novi
Written by Robin Swicord
Starring Winona Ryder
Susan Sarandon
Trini Alvarado
Claire Danes
Kirsten Dunst
Christian Bale
Gabriel Byrne
Samantha Mathis
Eric Stoltz
Matthew Walker
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Geoffrey Simpson
Editing by Nicholas Beauman
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • December 21, 1994 (1994-12-21)
Running time 115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $18 million
Box office $50,083,616

Little Women is a 1994 American drama film directed by Gillian Armstrong. The screenplay by Robin Swicord is based on the Louisa May Alcott novel of the same name. It is the fifth feature film adaptation of the Alcott classic, following silent versions released in 1917 and 1918, a 1933 George Cukor-directed release, a 1949 adaptation by Mervyn LeRoy, and a 1978 adaptation by Gordon Hessler. It was released exclusively on December 21, 1994, and was released wide on December 25, 1994, by Columbia Pictures.

Plot[edit]

The film focuses on the March sisters - beautiful Meg (Trini Alvarado), tempestuous Jo (Winona Ryder), tender Beth (Claire Danes), and romantic Amy (Kirsten Dunst) - growing up in Concord, Massachusetts during and after the American Civil War. With their father away fighting in the war, the girls struggle with major and minor problems under the guidance of their strong-willed mother, affectionately called Marmee (Susan Sarandon). As a means of escaping some of their problems, the sisters revel in performing in romantic plays written by Jo in their attic theater.

Living next door to the family is wealthy Mr. Laurence (John Neville), whose grandson Theodore, nicknamed "Laurie" (Christian Bale), moves in with him and becomes a close friend of the March family. Mr. Laurence becomes a mentor for Beth, whose exquisite piano-playing reminds him of his deceased daughter, and Meg falls in love with Laurie's tutor John Brooke (Eric Stoltz).

Mr. March is wounded in the war and Marmee is called away to nurse him. While Marmee is away, Beth contracts scarlet fever from a neighbor's infant. Awaiting Marmee's return, Meg and Jo send Amy away to live with their Aunt March. Prior to Beth's illness, Jo had been Aunt March's companion for several years, and while she was unhappy with her position she tolerated it in the hope her aunt one day would take her to Europe. Amy thrives as Aunt March's new companion.

Mr. March returns home just prior to Christmas. Four years pass; Meg and John Brooke marry, and Beth's health is deteriorating steadily. Laurie graduates from college and proposes to Jo and asks her to go to London with him, but realizing she thinks of him more as a big brother than a romantic prospect, she refuses his offer. Jo later deals with the added disappointment that Aunt March has decided to take Amy, who is now sixteen (Samantha Mathis), with her to Europe instead of her. Crushed, Jo departs for New York City to pursue her dream of writing and experiencing life. There she meets Friedrich Bhaer (Gabriel Byrne), a German professor who challenges and stimulates her intellectually, introduces her to opera and philosophy, and encourages her to write better stories than the lurid Victorian melodramas she has penned so far.

In Europe, Amy reunites with her old childhood friend Laurie. Finding he has become dissolute and irresponsible, she censures him and refuses to have anything more to do with him until he mends his ways. Laurie decides to go to London to work for his grandfather and make himself worthy of Amy.

Jo is summoned home to see Beth, who finally dies of the lingering effects of the scarlet fever that have plagued her for the past four years. Grieving for her sister, Jo retreats to the comfort of the attic and begins to write her life story. Upon its completion, she sends it to Professor Bhaer. Meanwhile, Meg gives birth to twins Demi and Daisy.

A letter from Amy informs the family Aunt March is too ill to travel, so Amy must remain in Europe with her. In London, Laurie receives a letter from Jo in which she informs him of Beth's death and mentions Amy is in Vevey, unable to come home. Laurie immediately travels to be at Amy's side. The two eventually return to the March home as husband and wife.

Aunt March dies and she leaves Jo her house, which she decides to convert into a school. Professor Bhaer arrives with the printed galley proofs of her manuscript and announces he is departing for the West, where he has found a position as a teacher. When he discovers it was Amy and not Jo who wed Laurie, he proposes marriage and Jo accepts.

Cast[edit]

  • Winona Ryder as Josephine "Jo" March (age 26), an ambitious young woman who longs to become a successful author.
  • Gabriel Byrne as Friedrich Bhaer, a handsome professor who falls in love with Jo while he works as a tutor in New York and who eventually marries her.
  • Trini Alvarado as Margaret "Meg" March (age 28), the oldest March sister. She marries Laurie's tutor, John Brooke, and gives birth to twins, a boy (Demi) and girl (Daisy).
  • Samantha Mathis as Adult Amy March, the youngest March daughter. Instead of the brown hair and brown or green eyes of her sisters, she has golden curls and blue eyes. She later marries Laurie and becomes a successful painter.
  • Kirsten Dunst as Young Amy. Amy was the only character played by two different actresses.
  • Claire Danes as Elizabeth "Beth" March (age 14), the third March daughter, was shy and loyal. She contracted scarlet fever which weakened her heart and resulted in her death some years later.
  • Christian Bale as Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, the grandson of the March's neighbor.
  • Eric Stoltz as John Brooke, Laurie's tutor and Meg's eventual husband.
  • John Neville as Mr. Laurence, a kindly neighbor.
  • Mary Wickes as Aunt March, the only March family member who still had money. Upon her death, her estate is left to Jo who transforms it into a school.
  • Susan Sarandon as Margaret "Marmee" March, the mother of the March daughters.
  • Matthew Walker as Mr. March, the father of the March daughters.
  • Florence Paterson as Hannah.
  • Janne Mortil as Sally Moffat.

Critical reception[edit]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film 3½ stars, calling it "a surprisingly sharp and intelligent telling of Louisa May Alcott's famous story, and not the soft-edged children's movie it might appear." He added, "[It] grew on me. At first, I was grumpy, thinking it was going to be too sweet and devout. Gradually, I saw that Gillian Armstrong . . . was taking it seriously. And then I began to appreciate the ensemble acting, with the five actresses creating the warmth and familiarity of a real family."[1]

Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "meticulously crafted and warmly acted" and observed it "is one of the rare Hollywood studio films that invites your attention, slowly and elegantly, rather than propelling your interest with effects and easy manipulation."[2]

Little Women has a strong 90% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews with the consensus: "Thanks to a powerhouse lineup of talented actresses, Gillian Armstrong's take on Louisa May Alcott's Little Women proves that a timeless story can succeed no matter how many times it's told."

Box office[edit]

The film opened on 1,503 screens in the US and Canada on December 21, 1994. It grossed $5,303,288 and ranked #6 at the box office on its opening weekend and eventually earned $50,083,616.[3] Against its budget of $18 million, the film was a success.

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Winona Ryder, Best Costume Design for Colleen Atwood (who was nominated for the BAFTA Award in the same category), and Best Original Score for composer Thomas Newman, who won the BMI Film Music Award.

Winona Ryder was named Best Actress by the Kansas City Film Critics Circle. Kirsten Dunst won the Young Artist Award, and the Boston Society of Film Critics honored her for her performance in both Little Women and Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles.

Robin Swicord was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay but lost to Eric Roth for Forrest Gump.

References[edit]

External links[edit]