Louise May Alcott’s beloved novel Little Women arrives on TV on Boxing Day, and Call the Midwife’s Heidi Thomas adaptation stars a cast of fresh new faces as well as big-name heavyweights of the acting world.
Here are the characters you need to know – and the actors who play them:
Maya Hawke – Jo March
Who does she play? Josephine “Jo” March is the character people usually identify with when they first read Little Women. The second-eldest child, she is strong and wilful with a quick temper. She is also a “tomboy”. Jo asserts her independence and also pursues her own career as a writer.
Where have I seen her before? Maya Hawke is the daughter of Hollywood’s Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, so she has a strong acting pedigree! This is her first screen role as she makes her acting debut. 19 years old, she was born in New York.
“Everybody wants to be Jo — it’s her independent spirit, her lack of self- consciousness; she’s free, awkward and weird,” Hawke says. “I share her awkwardness; I can hardly walk like a regular person, I bump into everything and break things and spill and stumble. I also share her curiosity and fervour to learn.
“My parents are actors and I’m the oldest of my siblings — I have three younger sisters, and a brother who’s my best friend. We’re a close-knit, complicated family, but we spend a lot of time together, even though we live in different houses. We’re a rambunctious gang!
“I haven’t always known I wanted to act. I wanted to be a farmer, an English professor or an archaeologist. But playing one of the March women is very special because you rarely see such well-rounded female characters, who see their own faults, are introspective, and work hard to grow, change and be more generous and kind. They remind us that we have permission to reinvent ourselves.”
Annes Elwy – Beth March
Who does she play? In the novel, Beth is 13 when the story starts. She is described as kind, sweet, gentle, shy and quiet. She also has musical talent, but prefers to stay within the household and with her sisters rather than venturing out into the world.
Where have I seen her before? This is a break-out role for Annes Elwy, 25, who recently played the part of “Young Irma” in Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams. Despite her American accent in the series she was actually born in south Wales.
“Beth’s the quiet sister, but she sees everything,” she explains. “She’s in tune with everyone’s emotions and feels their pain and that can be overwhelming. That’s why music is so important; it helps her express herself.”
Willa Fitzgerald – Meg March
Who does she play? Meg March is the eldest of the four sisters – in the novel, she’s already 16 when the story starts. Her talents are domestic, and she’s also very beautiful: the model “little woman”. She is employed as a governess for the Kings, a wealthy local family.
Where have I seen her before? Willa Fitzgerald’s CV includes Scream, Gotham, Alpha House, and Royal Pains. She is 26, and was born in Tennessee.
“Meg’s the oldest sister, she has to grow up the quickest to provide an example for her sisters, but there are also moments in the story where you see her slip back into the childhood she perhaps didn’t completely have,” Fitzgerald says. “I grew up fast and was very precocious, too. Meg’s also the one who is most interested in playing and pretending — she’s the real actress of the sisters.”
Kathryn Newton – Amy March
Who does she play? Amy is the youngest sister – she’s 12 when the novel begins, although the TV series ages her up a bit. She is the artist of the family, but can also be vain and self-centred with an inability to see anything from anyone else’s perspective.
Where have I seen her before? Kathryn Newton may play the youngest of the March sisters, but the actress herself is the most experienced. She played Claire Novak in Supernatural, Joanie Clark in Halt and Catch Fire, and Abigail Carlson in Big Little Lies. She also has a part in the critically acclaimed movie Lady Bird. Aged 20, she was born in California.
“People can be harsh on Amy, but she’s always been my favourite March sister,” the actress says. “She’s so misunderstood. She made her dream of travelling and becoming an artist come true and that left a mark on me. When you’re young, people always tell you: ‘No, you can’t do that.’ Amy said, ‘Why not?’”
She adds: “To prepare to play her, I started looking at old pictures of myself and listening to the music and reading the books I did when I was 12. When you’re that young, your emotions are at your fingertips. Amy is very dramatic and everything she does means the world to her at that moment — if you can’t go to a party when you’re 12, it’s the end of the world!”