Harry Potter star Michael Gambon is to star alongside Murder She Wrote’s Angela Lansbury’s in the BBC’s new adaptation of the much-loved novel Little Women.

Gambon will play the family’s benevolent neighbour Mr Laurence with Lansbury taking on the part of cantankerous Aunt March in the dramatisation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 story which follows the four sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March on their journey from childhood to adulthood.

The role of Marmee, the matriarch of the March family who helps the girls with their self-discovery, will be taken by Emily Watson (Apple Tree Yard).

The March sisters will be played by an ensemble of four young actresses: newcomer Maya Hawke takes the role of adventurous Jo, Willa Fitzgerald (Scream: The TV Series) will play the eldest daughter Meg, Annes Elwy (Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams) will play Beth, and Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies) takes the role of the youngest sister Amy.

Set against the backdrop of a country divided by Civil War, the story follows the lives of the sisters from childhood to adulthood as their father is away fighting.

The girls navigate what it means to be young women and the story touches on issues ranging from gender roles to sibling rivalry, first love, loss and marriage. 

The new version has been adapted by Heidi Thomas, the writer and creator of Call the Midwife.

But it is a story that has already been filmed in a variety of guises, most recently in the 1994 film starring Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes and Kirsten Dunst.

Thomas said: "Little Women is one of the most loved novels in the English language, and with good reason. Its humanity, humour and tenderness never date, and as a study of love, grief and growing up it has no equal. There could be no better time to revisit the story of a family striving for happiness in an uncertain world, and I am thrilled to be bringing the March girls to a new generation of viewers."

Executive Producer Colin Callender added: “This is a character study of young women rich in texture and detail and it’s an honour to be able to bring it to life in this extended form with the great Heidi Thomas, one of the finest writers working in television today.

"In the hands of the exciting directorial style of filmmaker Vanessa Caswill we hope to deliver a new screen version that will speak to contemporary audiences, meet the expectations of the book’s ardent fans and bring a whole new generation to this great classic.”

The series is a co-production with Masterpiece on PBS and is expected to air on BBC1 early next year.