The next episode of Little Women continued to race through a number of plot points at breakneck speed, leaving us all wondering how on earth previous film versions have managed to cram in everything in just two thirds of the time. In one hour, Jo’s improbable career found a boost, Laurie made a move, Amy was bored, Meg got married and Beth almost succumbed to a fatal illness – plus, lots more. There was much to weep over and the drama certainly tried its hardest to make sure that you did. For those of us exhausted from holiday lounging and eating too much cheese, we didn’t exactly put up a fight.
What is it though about writer Heidi Thomas’ adaptation that makes it feel so rushed? I found myself consulting my copy of the source novel consistently to ascertain the changes that this version has made. There are a good few and scenes have been carefully plucked and altered. However, aside from some timeline jumps, it’s still picking up the main events in the correct order. There are moments of reflection that feel unbalanced – Beth’s illness is very fleeting, with an equal time spent at Aunt March’s, and on Amy and her usual naval-gazing (well-meaning in her own way).
Likewise, as beautiful as the reflective scene before Meg’s wedding and the moment when the girls play in the snow are, perhaps this is where the time is being lost. Either way, the pacing is all off despite the three hours to work with. It’s strange – most adaptations are able to take the source material and chop and change to this extent without feeling crammed. Issues with transferring to screen also usually come from the specific selection taken from the novel, rather than how they’re finally presented. It will be interesting to see if the last episode of this Little Women goes the same way.
Otherwise, it is still playing with the heartstrings effectively with the aid of a heavy score and those soft camera angles. Annes Elwy as Beth continues to be a highlight, although as already mentioned, her scenes are very sparse. Emily Watson proves her continual status in the top tier of British actors by being as brilliant as ever in the role of Marmee, and that moment where she pauses before her eldest daughter’s wedding is a masterclass in stifled heartbreak and pride.
This adaptation has been far more enjoyable than some recent BBC fayre (*cough* Gunpowder *cough*), and it’s undoubtedly been made with affection by the cast and crew. Still something has been missed, whether it was back in the writer’s room or recently on the cutting room floor, and it’s become rushed without the need to be. Perhaps the last episode will find a new pace so we can really enjoy our time with the March family. I’m hopeful.