Little Women is based on the classic novel by Louisa M. Alcott, which is set in Concord, Massachusetts, during the American Civil War. The story is written by character Jo March (Saoirse Ronan), the second daughter of the March family. Mr March (Bob Odenkirk) has gone to fight for the Union and has left his wife, Marmee (Laura Dern), to fend for herself and steer their four highly spirited daughters through these difficult times.
Headstrong and independent Jo has always enjoyed writing stories and plays, which she and her sisters love to perform. Meg (Emma Watson), the oldest, enjoys acting but is more serious than Jo. Their elderly Aunt March (Meryl Streep) tells Jo that she must marry, but Jo doesn’t want to. She befriends Laurie (Timothee Chalamet), the grandson of their neighbour, Mr Laurence (Chris Cooper). Laurie falls in love with Jo, but she’s more interested in writing.
Jo’s younger sister, Amy (Florence Pugh), is more pragmatic and knows that she must marry well. Amy accompanies Aunt March to Europe, much to Jo’s chagrin, as she had been promised this trip. In Europe Amy finds Laurie in a sad state following Jo’s rejection. The two get together, and Amy reveals she has always loved Laurie. Meanwhile Jo has gone to New York to work as a writer and tutor, where she meets Friedrich (Louis Garrel), a German professor who is highly critical of her writing.
While Jo is away from home, youngest sister Beth (Eliza Scanlen) falls very ill, and Jo returns home. Friedrich believes Jo’s departure from New York is because he has criticised her work. He follows Jo to Concord in the hope of mending the relationship with her.
The American Civil War; sisterhood and rivalry; family struggles; serious illness and death
Little Women has some violence. For example:
- There is some play fighting among the girls, including pillow fights and rough-and-tumble play.
- Amy is strapped on the hand by her teacher (this isn’t shown) and is left with cuts on her hand. Amy says she wishes that he would die.
- Jo and Amy fight. Jo calls her a baby and Amy throws a shoe at her.
- Amy burns Jo’s manuscript.
- Jo and Amy fight and punch each other.
- Jo punches Laurie on the arm in a friendly way.
- Jo and Friedrich argue verbally.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Little Women shows some use of substances. For example:
- A man smokes a cigar.
- People drink on many occasions, including at home, in a pub, at a ball and at a wedding.
- Laurie gets drunk and stumbles over a chair.
Nudity and sexual activity
Little Women has some mild sexual activity. For example, several characters kiss briefly, including Meg and John, Amy and Laurie, and Jo and Friedrich.
Little Women has some mild coarse language, including ‘dammit’. There’s also some name-calling, including ‘pompous blowhard’ and ‘idiot’.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Little Women is a new version of Louisa M. Alcott’s classic novel. The cinematography is visually beautiful and the acting is very well done. The movie is true to the original story, but the story is told in a circular way. It begins at the end and has flashbacks and memories to fill in the gaps. Younger children might find this confusing.
Although there’s nothing particularly scary in this movie, Little Women is a sad story at times. Therefore it isn’t suitable for children under 7 years, and we recommend parental guidance for children aged 7-9 years.
The main messages from this movie are to rise above adversity, to live your own life and to value the contributions that women make to life.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include:
- charity and kindness
- personal strength, particularly for women
- a questioning attitude towards accepted beliefs.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues like attitudes towards women. In the 19th century, people thought that women should always marry. Also, legally, women owned nothing and children ‘belonged’ to the father. How far do you think that women’s rights and gender equality have come?