The March sisters from classic 1868 novel “Little Women” have appeared on-screen in several celebrated adaptations, and Sunday they’ll be back in a new BBC miniseries airing on PBS (8 pm).
Starring Maya Hawke (daughter of Ethan) as the headstrong Jo March and Angela Lansbury as Aunt March, this rendition of the story is three hours long (played out over two episodes). Producer Colin Callender says that’s what distinguishes it from previous adaptations.
“The 3 hours has allowed us to spend time with all four sisters and the mother as well,” he says. “In many of the [other] films that had been made…Jo takes most of the focus.”
“Little Women” follows the four March sisters as they come of age and manage their careers, love lives, and moral philosophies in Civil War-era Massachusetts. The most famous adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel is the 1994 film version, starring Winona Ryder as Jo March and Christian Bale as her neighbor and would-be suitor Laurie. But it’s also been adapted into films in 1933, ’49, and ’78, as well as two silent films in 1917 and ‘18. This miniseries marks the fourth TV version by the BBC alone (other renditions have been in 1950, ‘58, and ‘70).
“What’s true of all great pieces of art and literature is they have enduring resonance, but [come across] slightly differently depending on the time you look at them,” says Callender.
“It’s all about four young women trying to make their way in a man’s world, and trying to do so with integrity. I have two teenage daughters and many of the things I see them struggling with as they grow up here [in New York City] are the same things the March sisters struggle with.”
Callender is a superproducer responsible for many acclaimed period dramas (“Wolf Hall,” “Howards End”) and stage productions “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”).
He also served as the head of HBO films from 1999 to 2008. For “Little Women” he tapped Heidi Thomas (“Call The Midwife”) to pen the script and Vanessa Caswill (2016 BBC miniseries “Thirteen”) to direct. He says he chose Caswill to appeal to a younger audience. “Her style was very fresh and immediate and visceral. She said she wanted the camera to be the fifth sister in the room,” he says.
Despite the story’s specific time-period, Callender maintains that “Little Women” is particularly ripe for the current era of the #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements.
“The relationship between men and women is front-page news and part of national zeitgeist [right now],” he says. “And in many ways it takes on an immediate resonance [in “Little Women”].
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