BBC’s 3-part adaptation of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott finally aired in the United States last night, and naturally I binge-watched the whole thing. I think it’s one of those stories that, for many of us, will never be as good on screen as it is in our heads, but I still enjoyed this new interpretation. In my mind, one of the most enduring aspects of the novel is the characters, so I’ve made a guide of the central players in the miniseries, ranked from my favorite to least favorite.
Marmee (Emily Watson):
Nobody is more surprised than I am that Marmee is at the top of the list. In the book, she makes me roll my eyes with her endless lectures and her self-righteousness, but my feelings about Marmee in the miniseries couldn’t be more different. Throughout the story, she truly is the glue that holds the family together. We get to witness her strength and wisdom as she guides her four daughters, but we also get to see her work through her faults and fears as she struggles to control her temper and grieves to see her daughters leave home. It’s tempting to focus on the four sisters when you watch this adaptation, but Emily Watson is the real star of the show.
Aunt March (Angela Lansbury):
Angela Lansbury is a DREAM as Aunt March! Her biting sarcasm and imperious nature could give the Dowager Countess (Where are my Downton Abbey fans?) a run for her money. And, to top it all off, she has a sassy red parrot she dotes on to make for some pretty hilarious scenes.
Mr. Laurence (Michael Gambon):
Laurie’s grandfather is one of my favorite characters in the novel because of his kindness hidden beneath a gruff demeanor and his heartwarming friendship with Beth. Michael Gambon was an amazing choice for the role—I just wish they had used him more.
Beth (Annes Elwy):
Beth is another one who can come off annoyingly perfect in the novel, but I really enjoyed this interpretation of her. She’s sweet and soft-spoken and she is the peacemaker of the March family, but she also struggles painfully with her obvious social anxiety throughout the miniseries, and takes great pains to master it. It’s easy to write Beth off as the saint of the family and focus on more interesting characters, but the fact that she has an internal struggle made me so invested in her journey.
Meg (Willa Fitzgerald):
It’s hard not to root for Meg in this adaptation because her character is just so likeable. She’s prim and proper (just like the book), but she’s also fun and sassy and more than capable of standing up for herself. She is easily the kindest and most level-headed sister, and Fitzgerald plays the role beautifully.
Jo (Maya Hawke):
Jo is the character that all bookish girls relate to when they read Little Women, so it’s hard to think any version of her is perfect. I enjoyed Maya Hawke as the lead character because I thought she embodied Jo’s awkward, boyish charm and her reckless, ambitious nature. There are some truly beautiful scenes where they address her ever-present desire to break away from the status quo and do something remarkable.
Professor Bhaer (Mark Stanley):
As a significantly older man pursuing Jo, Professor Bhaer could come off a little creepy. However, his most important qualities are his kindness and his desire to inspire and support Jo, and Mark Stanley achieves that. I enjoyed this interpretation of him because his intelligence and generosity are so apparent. There you have it, bookstagrammers–be brave, remember you’re worth working with, and chase down those collaborations!
Mr. March (Dylan Baker):
LOVE what they did with Mr. March. He is featured from the beginning of the miniseries, and it’s adds to much to the story to see him longing for his little family even as he is dealing with the horrors of the Civil War. Later on, he fulfills the role of mentor to Jo, encouraging her to write from her heart and pursue her dreams. It’s a welcome departure from the novel, where the girls are mainly encouraged to just…get married.
Mr. Brooke (Julian Morris):
Any man who steals a woman’s accessory and carries it in his pocket is a major creep, even if it is just a glove. But, Julian Morris is excellent in the role, and he just comes off as a shy, somewhat awkward, and entirely harmless. He’s also not bad to look at.
Laurie (Jonah Hauer-King):
Sadly, I was disappointed by Laurie’s relationship with Jo. Instead of being best friends who go on crazy adventures and keep secrets from everyone else, they mainly just hung out in the attic and talked. Additionally, I was all ready to love Laurie because I adore his wit and playful nature in the book, but in the miniseries he seemed a bit spoiled and whiney.
Amy (Kathryn Newton):
Let me just echo the outraged Little Women super fans on Twitter and say that the decision to age Amy up was probably ill-advised. It turns out that Amy obsessing about her nose, making offensive comments about Jo’s appearance, and burning Jo’s manuscript are much more forgivable when she’s a little kid. As a teenager, her actions come off unbearably self-centered and scheming. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like her character grew much beyond the bratty youngest child, so she’s at the bottom of the list for me.