I Probably Share Qualities with Jo

Little Women

This will primarily focus on the 1994 film. I’m aware there are older versions and there is a wonderful new version out (unfortunately, not on DVD yet so I can do a closer watching), but I will insert little quips from what I can remember from the theatre. In grade school, Little Women was my best friend’s favorite book; I did finally read it and it is on my shelf. I remember it being well written and the characters fully realized. But what truly drew me to the 1994 film was the fact that Christian Bale (Batman in Christopher Nolan’s universe, we’ll see a young version in Newsies once we get to musicals, he was also the voice of Thomas in Pocahontas, and has won awards for some of his other roles) as Laurie. Winona Ryder (star of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula [refuse to see either of the first and I’ve only caught bits of the last]; she also made a brief appearance in 2009’s Star Trek as Amanda Grayson, Spock’s mother) stars as Jo March, a character very much based on author Louis May Alcott. Claire Danes (we saw her in Stardust) is Beth March and Kirsten Dunst (same age that she was in Interview with a Vampire [another film I have not seen]) is young Amy March. Susan Sarandon plays their mother, Marmee. Mary Wickles (the housekeeper in White Christmas, and Sister Mary Lazarus in Sister Act, amongst other roles) pops in as Aunt March, and Gabriel Byrne (D’Artagnan in The Man in the Iron Mask; he also introduced a concert between Irish groups the Coors and the Chieftains [he is Irish…though it was a bit of a shock to be watching a video on YouTube and pondering “where have I seen that guy?” and realize]) as Professor Friedrich Bhaer.

march women
The March women: Jo, Meg, young Amy mother Marmee, and Beth

Little Women is set in New England, specifically Concord, Massachusetts during the Civil War. The March’s father is away, leaving the women to make do. This film opens on Christmas, narrated by Jo. We see early on that Jo is an avid writer. The four girls make their lives a merry one when possible. Meg still yearns for nice things, like they had before the war. Amy desires to marry well. Beth is shy, but loves the piano. And Jo is fiery. Led by the example of their mother, they donate their Christmas breakfast to a less fortunate family. They catch a glimpse of their next door neighbor, Theodore Lawrence and his grandfather. At a dance, Jo encounters Theodore hiding in another room; they quickly strike a mutual friendship. He gallantly comes to the rescue when Meg sprains her ankle at the dance.

Amy gets into trouble at school with a deal over limes; the girls trade them, but they’re against school rules, so the teacher strikes her. Jo is now in charge of her education. Jo also sits with her Aunt March as her companion, reading most of the time. But when the elderly lady dozes off, Jo rummages through her other books for subjects more to her amusement. The four sisters produce their own newspaper and imitate a gentlemen’s club. They put on Jo’s plays. And Jo soon wants to include “Laurie,” or “Teddy,” and Jo sometimes calls him. He is loved as a brother.

While the four sisters all love each other, tensions and anger have their place as well. Amy is upset that Meg and Jo get to go to the theatre and not her. She cannot persuade Jo to help, so yells as the older sisters leave, “you’ll be sorry, Jo March!” To extract her revenge, Amy burns her older sister’s recent manuscript. When Jo next goes to jot something down, she discovers is missing, then in the fire. She screams at her sister and they have to be separated. She refuses to forgive Amy. Later, Amy follows Jo and Laurie as they ice skate, but Jo ignores her calls and neglects to tell Amy of the thin ice. Amy falls through and Laurie and Jo rush to save her. Jo is now apologetic to her little sister and there is a cozy scene of all four little women curled together, working on re-writing Jo’s manuscript.

Meg attends Sally Moffat’s coming out. She has strong opinions on slavery and the silk industry, but allows the other ladies to dress her up. She flirts with the gentlemen in attendance and Laurie is displeased with what he sees; this is not the Meg he knows. And he tells her. Later, he apologizes and Meg apologizes for her own actions. Then Laurie is off to college and the March’s father is wounded. Jo can’t face going to Aunt March for money, so sells her own hair. At night, she cries a little for her loss. Beth, continuing their mother’s request to check on the poor Hummel family, catches scarlet fever. Amy must be sent to Aunt March so she doesn’t catch it and Teddy and his grandfather come to the rescue, along with his tutor Mr. Brooke. Teddy promises Amy that he will kiss her before she dies. Beth worsens and they are forced to recall Marmee, who had gone to care for her husband. Beth recovers in time for Christmas; the elder Mr. Lawrence gifts her a piano in memory of his own daughter who died young, and they are blessed by the return of Mr. March.

We jump four years to Meg and Mr. Brooke’s wedding (the hymn they are singing is For the Beauty of the Earth, which I have sung in church and is very easy to get stuck in your head). Teddy and Jo talk; Teddy proposes. Jo refuses; she does not love him that way. They both have tempers, they’d only quarrel. But Laurie wants her. She insists she can’t be a wife. Both are broken hearted after the encounter. Jo cheers slightly when Amy informs her sisters that Aunt March is going to Europe, but her spirits drop again when Amy points out that she is Aunt March’s companion now and will be the one going. Marmee arranges for Jo to board in New York City with a friend and teach the daughters. There, Jo encounters Professor Bhaer and other scholars. She even tries her hand at publishing. But she and Friedrich disagree over what material Jo should be writing. She goes for the sensational stories that newspaper editors tell her people want to read and they pay for. Friedrich believes she should write more from her soul. For a while, they manage as a couple, but they still disagree. Then Jo receives word that Beth has taken ill again and leaves for home.

In Europe, Amy encounters Laurie. She dislikes the changes in Laurie; he whiles away his time and money and does nothing productive. Meanwhile, she is being courted by Fred Vaughn, an old schoolmate of Laurie’s. Laurie begs her not to accept Fred. But he is determined to prove himself worthy of the March family. He receives word of Beth’s passing (which is utterly heartbreaking) from Jo and goes to comfort Amy. They must wait to journey back; Aunt March is ill as well. When she dies, they return home.

Aunt March left Jo her home, Plumfield. Marmee remarks that a home that large is only really good for a school. Jo begins thinking. She also starts writing about her family in memory of Beth. Meg has twins. Laurie finally returns home, with Amy as his wife. Jo is surprised at first, but gives the couple her blessing. Jo’s novel is published. She notes a card from Friedrich and inquires who left it. The housekeeper accidently sent him next door, with the news that Miss March had married Mr. Lawrence. Jo runs after her professor and clears up the confusion and they admit their love for each other.

The newest rendition, released on this past Christmas day, exactly twenty-five years after the 1994 version, stars Saoirse Ronan (she was Mary Stuart in the recent Mary Queen of Scots movie, which I tried to watch, then shut off because it just didn’t seem to jive) as Jo March, Emma Watson (famous as Hermoine Granger in Harry Potter and wonderful as Belle in the live action Beauty and the Beast) as eldest March sister Meg. Laura Dern leads as Marmee March and Aunt March this time is played by veteran Meryl Streep. I adored the film and eagerly await its release on DVD. There is a BBC miniseries of the book that I want to check out at some point.

The 2019 film jumps in time period when telling the story, so you need to be at least familiar with how the story is supposed to go. For instance, they play both times Beth is ill on top of each other. So we first get the happy recovery, then Jo wakes up again and our stomach drops when we realize that this time won’t be happy. I liked that elder Mr. Lawrence appears more in the new film and his character is further developed. Overall, I feel the 2019 film better showcased all the characters, not just Jo. We see a scene from the book involving Meg that was not included in the 1994 film, when she uses money they were saving for something else to buy a nice gown because she misses pretty things. We see faults in all the girls, as well as their triumphs.

jo and lauriePersonally, I have always liked the pairing of Laurie and Jo; they get along so well, it seems only natural. I can understand her hesitation, that being too similar will not work well as a marriage, but Laurie is such a charming lad. (This is why it makes a good Valentine’s film, well, Christian Bale’s portrayal a little more than Timothée Chalamet…oh, if a man would offer to take me to London and support my writing…[but alas, it hasn’t, so I make do with my books and my writing and my movies and shows]). But I utterly adore how Jo is portrayed as a writer in the 2019 film. I recognized so much of what I do in her. And her conversations with the publisher; I was set on seeing the film when Jo commented in one trailer that if she was to sell her characters and writer’s integrity, she would get some of the profits.

I like the ending scene of the 1994 rendition, between Jo and Friedrich; it is very touching and romantic. But I also like the take in the 2019 film *Warning: Spoiler* that Jo does not marry, very much like Louisa May Alcott herself. And Jo turning Plumfield into a school and all of her loved ones there was heartwarming.

Do you lot have a favorite version? What are some of your favorite romantic movies?

Up Next: Becoming Jane

“It will turn out well.” “How?” “I don’t know; it’s a mystery.”

Shakespeare in Love

This movie would have been helpful in high school so I might actually be interested in Shakespeare, but since it’s rated R, that didn’t happen. It also has a cast and a half! A veritable “I’ve that person before.” Geoffrey Rush (Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean) owns the Rose theatre, and yes, one of the thugs trying to burn his feet in the beginning was in A Knight’s Tale. Dame Judi Dench (M in several Bond films is only a small part of her long filmography) won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as Queen Elizabeth, although she’s only on camera for less than ten minutes. (Ironically, she went against Cate Blanchett that year in the same category; Cate was nominated for playing Elizabeth I in Elizabeth, which also featured Joseph Fiennes [his brother is Ralph, also known as Voldemort amongst other credits] as her lover Robert Dudley. Here, he is the titular William Shakespeare). The film as a whole won Best Picture, beating out Saving Private Ryan. Future Harry Potter faces are Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley) as the stutterer and Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge) is Viola’s nurse; her real-life husband Jim Carter (Carson the butler in Downton Abbey) is the actor who plays the nurse. Gwyneth Paltrow (before she was Iron Man’s Pepper Potts) is Viola, and Colin Firth (far more romantic in Pride and Prejudice) is Lord Wessex. Ben Affleck is even in the movie, as an actor who plays Mercutio. Whew, you need a map to make sense of all this!

At the film’s opening, Shakespeare is suffering from writer’s block and searching for his muse. He is being asked to deliver his newest play, but honestly has not written anything. He claims it is all locked away; well, it’s so well-locked, it hasn’t even occurred to him. He happens to peek in on a performance of one of his plays for Queen Elizabeth. In the audience is a woman who loves his work. The woman later explains to her nurse “I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all.” [Lots of women want that. I want that. Still searching.] The young woman goes so far as to wish to be in plays; not something that was done at that time, women’s roles were played by prepubescent men.

Shakespeare is finally forced to start his latest production (with a little nudging from contemporary, Christopher Marlowe). At the end of auditions “Thomas Kent” takes the stage and speaks with such passion that Shakespeare is impressed. Thomas runs and Shakespeare gives chase, all the way to a manor home. We discover that Viola is pretending to be Thomas Kent in order to perform. A wrench is thrown in the works when pompous Lord Wessex takes interest in Viola, well, more her money than anything else. He arranges it with her parents and spots Shakespeare at a dance held at the home making eyes with his new intended. Shakespeare gives him Marlowe’s name. But Shakespeare hangs around to speak to Viola at her balcony. (By now we can see where some of this is going; it centers around the creation of Romeo and Juliet.) Shakespeare has found his muse in Viola and begins writing feverishly.

viola and shakespeare

Even more good news, the lead company of actors have returned, including the typical lead Ned (played by Ben Affleck) and the usual “woman.” “Thomas Kent” is given the role of Romeo; Ned is told his part of Mercutio is actually the lead. But Ned tends to be supportive of Shakespeare, though he’s aggravated by some of “Thomas’s” ineptitude. Away from the stage, Shakespeare speaks to Thomas to find out information on Viola, which leads to a rather awkward kiss between the two “men;” there are some scholars who theorize that Shakespeare was gay, or possibly bisexual. Luckily for Shakespeare, when he follows “Thomas,” he discovers that “he” is Viola. Who has just discovered from Lord Wessex that they are to be married in two weeks. Viola takes Shakespeare to her bed (the nurse has to sit in a chair in front of her door and stave off other servants) and discovers that there is something better than a play. Now when they are both at the theatre, the couple makes out backstage.

In order for Viola to marry Wessex, she must appear before Queen Elizabeth. The queen recognizes the young woman from attending plays put on for the queen, but cautions Viola that poets cannot write true love. A wager is called out, can a poet portray true love? As Wessex and Viola leaves, Elizabeth tells Wessex that she can tell that Viola has been “plucked,” since last she saw her. Wessex suspects “Marlowe.”

A fight breaks out between the two theatres and acting companies; Shakespeare told one man he could have the play, but has given it to this man, etc, etc. Shakespeare and his troupe triumph and celebrate at a pub. During the festivities, Viola finds out that Shakespeare is married (he was, though he was living away from his wife and they were not on best of terms). She leaves and Shakespeare goes to follow, but discovers that Marlowe had just been killed. He blames himself, figuring that Wessex had killed Marlowe, thinking it was Shakespeare. Wessex meets Viola the next morning to give her the good news that her poet is dead. She is despondent at church, until Wessex spies Shakespeare, who had spent the night pleading to God for his crime. Wessex runs out of church, alarmed. Viola is happy and she and Shakespeare speak. While they love each other, they cannot be together. Shakespeare is married and Viola is engaged to be married; she must marry someone and if she cannot have Shakespeare, why not Wessex? Even though they will move to his plantation in Virginia.

Now a bit heartbroken, Shakespeare finishes Romeo and Juliet, even having a full copy written and given to Viola. Unfortunately, a boy happens to see Shakespeare and Viola making out and reports it (remember, ladies were not allowed on stage). The production is put to a halt by the Master of Revels when Thomas is outed as Viola. This is after Wessex attacks Shakespeare. They duel and Shakespeare calls Wessex out for murdering Marlowe. In that case, it had been a tavern brawl and Marlowe accidently got his own knife in the eye. Wessex had been pleased with the news, again thinking it was Shakespeare. The competing theatre offers its stage as a way for them all to thumb their nose at the Master of Revels.

Romeo and Juliet premieres the same day as Wessex’s and Viola’s wedding. Viola sees the ad and leaves the carriage before Wessex enters. Ironically, the young man who is to play Juliet had his voice break that day. They now lack one of the stars of the play. And the first performer to go on stage has a stutter. He overcomes it and delivers a commanding introduction. The two theatre owners are discussing their dilemma where Viola overhears. She whispers she is Thomas Kent and knows every word of Juliet’s part. She is rushed backstage and comes out right on cue. Shakespeare is most surprised, but pleased; and most fortune for he is playing Romeo in “Thomas Kent’s” place.

shakespeare finaleIt is a wonderful performance. The whole audience is in tears by the end. The standing ovation at the end is interrupted by the Master of Revels, again stating that Juliet is a woman. (Most everyone can see that). “Have a care with my name, you’ll wear it out,” Queen Elizabeth states from the audience. She takes in Juliet and judges the mistake an honest one. “I know something of a woman in a man’s profession. Yes, by God, I do know about that.” She calls out Wessex on the wager; Romeo and Juliet accurately depicted true love. As Queen, none can contest her word. She tells Viola quietly to say her farewells, she is still bound in matrimony to Wessex and must accompany him. And she wants a new play, for Twelfth Night, from Shakespeare. Something happier. It is a sad parting between Shakespeare and Viola, but she remains his muse for his next play, involving a shipwreck and a woman masquerading as a man.

The costumes are stunning in this film and well casted. Dame Judi Dench commands the scene when she speaks as Elizabeth. This shows a greater range for Gwyneth Paltrow than as Pepper; she shows such passion as Viola. Joseph is an artistic Shakespeare without being overbearing. They share great chemistry together. Not the best role for Colin Firth. Overall, it’s a nice romp for Valentine’s Day.

I have often mentioned that for an English major, I do not like Shakespeare; not written anyways. I enjoy his plays much better when performed, as they were intended. As many high schoolers, I read Romeo and Juliet in English class and found it dull and analyzed to death. Even MacBeth was slow. I think because everyone is trying to find some hidden meaning in Shakespeare’s words. Plays do not read the same way novels do. I also struggle with writing screenplays; it was one English course that I did not excel in in college. I am better suited for writing research papers or novels. Now, BBC’s Hollow Crown movie productions of some of Shakespeare’s plays are phenomenal. Tom Hiddleston is an excellent Henry V. I still need to watch the production with Benedict Cumberbatch.

Do any of you have a favorite Shakespeare play?

Up Next: Little Women