One film took place in a galaxy far away; the second concerned a family far away in time, perhaps, but spinning still in fresh tumult.
A family trip on Christmas Eve took care of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, while a quartet who won’t see 60 again joined up for Little Women yesterday.
The comparison of entirely different films is a fruitless exercise, but if pushed I’d happily say Little Women is the better film.
With JJ Abrams in the spinning director’s chair, the Star Wars film wraps up the latest trilogy of the spacey opera, making nine films so far. It was everything the average obsessive requires – and seemed to please the ardent Star Wars fan in our midst (31 going on eight).
To the eyes of this fan by family proxy, the film was slightly underwhelming, Star Wars by numbers perhaps. The plot made as much sense to me they ever do, but I’ve learned to just sit there and swallow.
Good battle scenes were undercut by moments when odd things just seemed to happen (Kylo Ren’s dead, oh no he isn’t, he’s back again, and so on).
As usual, the story concerns fractured families, or that’s my guess, and characters hover between good and evil. Daisy Ridley is great as Rey, wielding her girl-power lightsabre, and mostly carries the film, along with Adam Driver as Ren. Sadly, John Boyega is given almost nothing to do this time around.
You might have thought that the last thing we needed was another version of Little Women, Louise May Alcott’s timeless book about the March girls. Such a scandalous thought is blown right away by Greta Gerwig’s tumultuous version.
The actor turned director clearly loves the book and honours the story by using much of the original dialogue. Yet she also gives this tale of four girls growing up in the aftermath of the Civil War her own vigorous spin.
I’ve not read the book(s), but our quartet included two women who have, and they both loved the film.
Clever editing sees the story of the girls as children cut into their lives as young adults, and the interplay between the two levels keeps the film moving fleetly and heightens the emotions.
Also, towards the end, Gerwig cleverly goes a bit meta, weaving in elements of Louisa May Alcott’s own history. This mostly concerns Jo March/Louisa May Alcott (Saoirse Ronan) outwitting a publisher to retain the copyright to her book, and then seeing the novel published. A beautiful scene shows the making of a book, the stitching of the pages, the cutting of the leather cover, the gold title being embossed, the unnecessary flakes blown away.
Another fine scene occurs slightly earlier. Having abandoned her beloved writing – “I don’t do that anymore” – Jo takes up her pen and spends endless hours writing in the attic, laying out all the pages on the floor.
This is a highly affectionate film, but not a sentimental one. The difficulties the March girls face, personal and more political, are urgently of their own moment and our own.
All the cast is strong, even Emma Watson, but Ronan takes the honours, being fantastic and lovely and heart-breaking as Jo.
Florence Pugh is magnificent too as Amy, usually seen as the brat of the bunch, yet here filled out as something more: another young woman trying to work out her place in the world, and not that different in her way to Jo.
It’s a beautiful looking film too, and this littlish old guy quietly lifted his glasses to shed a tear or two. Women won’t need much encouragement so see this film, but men should go along too.
Incidentally, we went to the Hyde Park Picture House to see Little Women, and what a fabulous cinema that is. Built in 1914, it sits on a street corner, its prow-like frontage a relic from the golden age of film.
Everything is plush in the old and slightly shabby sense and gas lamps still putter on the walls.
This proud old cinema is closing soon for a full renovation lasting a year or so , plus the addition of new facilities, including a second screen.
It all sounds exciting… we’ll be back.