Listen: 'Little Women' Director Clare Niederpruem talks to Laura Bennett.
That Little Women is over 150 years old, and still relevant to audiences, is enough to make any English teacher proud.
In 1868 and 1869 at the request of her publisher, Louisa May Alcott originally wrote Little Women in two volumes. It followed the story of the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy as they grew up in America’s Civil War era, learning to be women and fighting the constraints of poverty and the expectations of their gender.
All these years later, marking the 25th anniversary of the 1994 flick, first-time director Clare Niederpruem has reimagined the March girls, bringing them to life in a 21st century version of ‘Little Women’.
“I re-read the novel a couple of years ago,” said Clare, “and felt even more connection to it. [It related to] the women I had in my life, and the struggles [we all] were going through.”
A Woman of Resilience and Integrity
Much of the story finds its anchor in Jo March: a passionate writer, with a penchant for the dramatic, and dreams of becoming a literary icon.
“I see [Jo] as someone with incredible resilience and authenticity,” Clare said. “Jo refused to give up on her dreams not matter how many times she failed, and that’s true for [author] Louisa May Alcott’s life as well.
“Louisa May Alcott grew up in a very eccentric family; they sort of didn’t fit in, and she just wanted to write.”
“Jo was different from the other females in her life and she really embraced that, and that’s what made her unique… She had her flaws like we all do [but] at the end of day she means well, and is just one of those women that’s gritty and keeps fighting. I think that’s important,”
The theme of ‘dreams’ is quite significant in Little Women. All four March sisters have hopes for their future they’re determined to chase, but inevitably some fall by the wayside.
As they each deal with the change and the nature of growing up, we as the audience also get to think about how we handle the death of a dream.
Reflecting on letting dreams go, Clare said, “As an artist I’ve had a lot of crushed dreams and a lot of realised dreams. I think sometimes we have to realise the path that is in front of us, and the doors that are open, and let go of the ones that aren’t available to us.
“A lot of times following those open doors leads us to a greater sense of satisfaction than what we had thought [the others would].
“All the girls [in Little Women] talk about their ‘castle in the cloud’ which is essentially like their dream, and they all had these expectations of what they wanted their life to look like and everyone ended up in a different place, but that didn’t mean they weren’t fulfilled.”
During the filmmaking process Clare and her Mum toured the house in Massachusetts where Louisa May Alcott grew up.
“Jo March is pretty much based on [Louisa],” Clare said. “She grew up in a very eccentric family; they sort of didn’t fit in anywhere, and she just wanted to write from the day she was old enough to. [Louisa would] make all her sisters put on plays and read all of her writing, and she always had a story to tell – and you see that in Jo March.”
Inspired by Louisa May Alcott
Louisa didn’t quite get the romantic happy ending Jo does, but inspired generations of women after her – including Clare herself.
As an author Louisa carved out her own career in a time where it was largely male-led, while Clare begins her career as a director, just as women are getting more prominent roles in the industry. It’s a special connection to share, and Clare doesn’t take it for granted that Louisa’s work laid the foundation for her own.
“Female directors are so important, because who knows women’s stories better than women?”
“I feel so grateful to [Louisa],” said Clare, “and any women in that era who were fighting for women to work and be able to have a voice, because it sets it up that now I can do this.
“I think [female directors are] so important, because who knows women’s stories better than women? [Women] are much more dynamic than often they’ve been portrayed in film before, so I’m excited to see the complicated characters that come out of that… It’s an exciting time to see how things switch because women will have more of a role in the stories that are told.”
Little Women is in cinemas September 5th, and Hope 103.2 is hosting a ‘Girl’s Night Out’ screening of the movie on September 4, the night before its Australia release.