'Little Women' First Look: The BBC Adapts An American Classic For Television

Little Women is one of the all-time classic American stories, so it makes sense that it's being adapted into a television series by the...BBC? Well, not that much sense, but the British TV network excels in churning out high-quality period dramas, which bodes well for the new Little Women, especially since it has to live up to the defining  adaptation, the 1994 film starring Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, and Christian Bale at their '90s wunderkind peaks.

BBC One and PBS' Masterpiece's TV adaptation doesn't have quite the big-name cast that the 1994 Little Women had, but in the Little Women first look, it seems that they've captured the loveliness and charm of the novel.

The Little Women three-hour miniseries is created by Heidi Thomas, the woman behind the BBC hit Call The Midwife, and director Vanessa Caswill (the BBC's Thirteen).

The four sisters — the headstrong writer Jo, the maternal Meg, gentle Beth, and spoiled youngest one, Amy — are all played by relative unknowns. The most recognizable stars are Emily Watson as the girls' mother, Angela Lansbury as the cantankerous Aunt March, and Harry Potter alum Michael Gambon as the Marchs' neighbor Mr. Laurence.

Little Women is a coming-of-age story about four sisters who grow up raised by their mother in Massachusetts during the Civil War, as their father is far away serving as a chaplain in the war. The four girls deal with the tragedy of illness, the pangs of first love, and the limits of living as independent women.

THR debuted the Little Women first look:

little women

From left to right in the picture: Amy is played by Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies); Meg, played by Willa Fitzgerald (Scream: The TV Series); Jo, played by newcomer Maya Hawke; and Beth, played by Annes Elwy (Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams).

It seems the series will be foregoing casting a child actor for Amy, who was 12 years old for the majority of the novel (Kirsten Dunst played the role at the age of 11), with the 20-year-old Newton. Though perhaps they only assembled the actress for the adult version of Amy, who appears about two-thirds of the way through the story. The girls seem sweet in the picture, though I confess I don't know whatever scene they seem to be in the midst of. The dress already seems pretty fancy for the tomboyish Jo and that has me slightly wary!

I'm partial to the 1994 version — if you could tell — not only because Winona was pitch perfect as the bullish proto-feminist Jo, but because I definitely had a crush on Christian Bale as the floppy-haired Laurie. I won't say that the success of this BBC adaptation will hinge on who they cast as Laurie, but it may be a major factor. It's fascinating to me too that the BBC will be adapting such an innately American story, but I'm open to the creator of Call the Midwife tackling Little Women.

Little Women has been adapted several times to film and theater, most notably as a 1949 film starring Elizabeth Taylor, a CBS TV musical in 1958, a 1979 miniseries starring Meredith Baxter and Eve Plumb, and the aforementioned 1994 film that many today grew up watching. And that's not all — a new Little Women film adaptation is in the works with Lea Thompson attached as the mother, and the CW has a gestating project reimagining Little Women as a gritty sci-fi story (because of course).

Little Women will air on BBC One in the U.K. and on Masterpiece in the U.S.