Greta Gerwig: why Little Women still generates a big buzz | Lucy Siegle

Louisa M Alcott’s story is 150 years old, but the remake by the director of Lady Bird is tipped for great things already

You have to be super-confident to release a film without Will Ferrell at Christmas. But then “eagerly anticipated” doesn’t quite cover the release of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. In case you haven’t been ticking off the days in an analogue, fabric-covered diary (with lock) like a genuine Louisa May Alcott nut, the release date is Christmas Day (Boxing Day in the UK). And on the basis of just a trailer, Little Women has been tipped for all Oscars by everyone.

Overhyped? Absolutely not. This confidence is correctly placed. Despite the diminutive title, Little Women is a ratings behemoth. It always has been. Written in the midst of the American civil war, the novel has spent the intervening 150 years as the stand-out star of novels for young women. The saga of the four sisters of the March family of Massachusetts, their conflicting ambitions and achievements, has proved to be intergenerational catnip. It is also one of those library A-listers that works super well on screen. There have been at least eight TV versions, a silent 1918 film, a 1933 version, 1949 in Technicolor and the 1994 version starring Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder.

Saoirse Ronan as Jo, with Timothee Chalamet’s Laurie, in Little Women.
Saoirse Ronan as Jo, with Timothée Chalamet (another Lady Bird veteran) as Laurie, in Greta Gerwig’s forthcoming film of Little Women. Photograph: Allstar/Columbia Pictures

Why? Little Women is eminently “relatable” and doesn’t shirk the bad stuff. It’s not harpsichord heavy and preachy in the manner of, say, Pride and Prejudice but neither is it overly saccharine and full of orchards à la Anne of Green Gables. Each sister has a distinctive set of traits that are easy to grasp and eminently memorable: Meg, the eldest, on the verge of finding love; Beth sweet natured; Amy indulged and precocious. We come for this less reductive version of the Spice Girls, but we stay for Jo March – the Hamlet of the coming-of-age genre.

Jo is important too because she is essentially a fictional version of the author, who wrote her way to independence. Alcott didn’t really want to write Little Women, preferring a more racy gothic format, but once persuaded by her publisher she used it as a platform to shift perception and 150 years ago left a blueprint for young women for a successful life beyond love and marriage.

In her adaptation, already billed as the most feminist yet, Gerwig, the first female director to be nominated for an Oscar for a debut, Lady Bird, entrusts Jo to Saoirse Ronan (also nominated for an Oscar for that film) and there’s every reason to expect the same Lady Bird magic. Like the author, the director is a cultural iconoclast with an ability to shift our perceptions. In Greta Gerwig, Jo March has met her match.

Greta Thunberg won’t be all at sea with these two

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg and Pierre Casiraghi and Boris Herrmann wave from the Malizia II. Photograph: Reuters

Until Wednesday, my sailing knowledge was gleaned from the 1980s south-coast-based TV drama Howards’ Way, but that changed when I began following Greta Thunberg’s zero-emissions voyage aboard the carbon-free eco-yacht Malizia II.

I became obsessed, some might say a boat bore. But I wanted to make sure our Greta is in good hands. Carrying the hopes of every generation, she is what you might term precious cargo.

So I set about checking the crew. Good news: they check out. Both Boris Herrmann and Pierre Casiraghi are adept at crossing storm-tossed oceans. Indeed, Herrmann is planning to compete in the Vendée Globe, the Mount Everest of sailing. Crucially, they work well together: they came third in the 2017 Fastnet race.

Their voyage shows what real zero-emissions travel looks like as opposed to the pumped-up rhetoric from the airline industry that claims it’ll be going green very soon, replacing kerosene with algae and attaching solar panels to the wings, promises that are basically hot air. Real carbon-neutral transatlantic travel, it transpires, is epic, tough, probably quite pukey and not entirely accessible.

Casiraghi happens to be the grandchild of Rainier III, prince of Monaco, and US actress Grace Kelly. He is vice-president of the Monaco Yacht Club.

This doesn’t entirely suggest any old Joe can stroll up and pop aboard, as Casiraghi has pointed out: “I’m just transporting Greta. And it was just a way to help her get across. We had a zero-emissions boat. It’s very simple.”

Steve Coogan: back of the net for Alan Partridge

Steve Coogan
Steve Coogan: in the clear. Photograph: Brighton Pictures/REX/Shutterstock

Footballers usually swerve driving bans, but last week Crawley magistrates broadened the tradition to include actor Steve Coogan and by extension, his alter ego, TV presenter Alan Partridge.

With nine points accrued, Coogan could have expected an automatic six-month ban, but he argued that his next series required Partridge to drive around Britain. Presumably the magistrates explored the options. Couldn’t the series be changed to Monkey Tennis or Youth Hostelling With Chris Eubank?

They did ask: “Couldn’t you put him on a train?” but Coogan said the Partridge origin story was all about the car. It’s true. More specifically, the Rover 800, daubed with the words “Cook Pass Babtridge”. In conceding this point, the Crawley judiciary effectively granted Coogan a series.

Perhaps they feared what would happen if they did not. When BBC TV executive Tony Hayers, Partridge’s nemesis, refused to give him a second series of his chatshow, he was attacked with a half-eaten wheel of over-ripe stilton before a deranged Partridge shouted: “Smell my cheese.” Whatever the reason, Partridge drives again.

• Lucy Siegle is a journalist who writes about ethical living

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Lucy Siegle

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