Greta Gerwig‘s Little Women redo has traded one famous Emma for another as the cast experiences a sudden shake-up. Filming for the project is due to start in a month, and as reported by Variety, Emma Watson has boarded the movie in place of Emma Stone.
Stone had been part of the initial splashy casting announcement unveiling Gerwig’s adaptation to the world. She was tapped alongside Meryl Streep, Saoirse Ronan, and Timothée Chalamet to star in the picture. Variety has since announced that Stone had to drop out of Little Women due to conflicts with her promotional schedule for Yorgos Lanthimos’ awards season contender, The Favourite.
Watson is set to replace Stone as one of the March sisters. She joins Ronan, Florence Pugh, and perhaps Eliza Scanlen as part of the young March clan, although their exact roles have yet to be determined. Meanwhile, Streep has been tapped to play Aunt March, and if Laura Dern is really coming on board, too (hopefully to play Marmee), the line-up for the March family continues to be an impressive one.
Gerwig’s Little Women is but the latest of many adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel of the same name. The story follows the coming-of-age journeys of the Marches, an erstwhile wealthy family that now lives in poverty with their mother while their father is off serving in the Civil War. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March begin as teenagers but must come to terms with their womanhood in relation to their peers, their family, and their own personal goals and desires. Each “little woman” has individual arcs that unearth different struggles and priorities as they enter adulthood.
What sets Gerwig’s version apart from other adaptations of Alcott’s novel — including the popular, star-studded 1994 film helmed by Gillian Armstrong — is its concerted focus on the Marches’ lives as young adults. There is also a promise of a thematically driven narrative that ignores rigid time structures in order to ensure a fresher take on a book that has been thoroughly adapted for decades.
Admittedly, losing Stone is fairly sad news for Little Women. While she has dipped her toes into period dramas before with The Help, Gangster Squad, and Battle of the Sexes (among other films), Stone hasn’t really done a movie that fits the same generational scope as Little Women. When compared to others in the film’s cast, Stone’s age would’ve likely put her up for the role of Meg, the sensible oldest sister who represents propriety and graciousness in the original novel. She has certainly proven herself versatile enough to play a variety of character types, but I personally always associate Stone’s onscreen energy with a more smart-talking rule breaker, and Meg is the total opposite. Well, maybe I’m clinging on to Stone’s breakthrough roles in comedies such as Superbad, Easy A, and Zombieland. Yet the prospect of seeing her fill some distinctly docile shoes is one that I was totally willing to embrace.
Granted, like the rest of the March sisters, Meg isn’t a perfect character despite her penchant for obedience. She may tick all the requisite boxes of the ideal 19th-century woman — being deferential, polite, and feminine — and eventually does marry a hardworking man and rear children with him. Nevertheless, Meg’s personal journey actually involves a battle against envy and greed. Meg is fond of luxury and longs for fortune. However, she works hard to stave off those flashy wants for something more steadfast and sustainable. Meg puts aside her materialistic desires in favor of finding her one true love, making her the most traditional of the March sisters. Regardless, she isn’t exactly one-note.
I can see characters like that peppered throughout Watson’s filmography already, and to have her play Meg in Little Women just seems like an obvious choice. That kind of predictability doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though. Watson’s most iconic roles have touted conventionality to a great degree, and many of her characters even often come across as traditionally feminine. That said, they are definitely headstrong and intelligent to boot.
Between Watson’s playing Belle, a kind-hearted Disney princess in last year’s Beauty and the Beast, and balancing book smarts and pragmatism as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, the prim and proper Meg March is naturally found in the actress. Her calming presence on screen — one that exudes sincerity and goodness — ensures that.
Yet, Watson is not a stranger to depicting materialistic or otherwise shortsighted characters in films. For instance, her excellent turn in The Bling Ring is a total 180-degree shift from Hermione’s magnanimous nature in Harry Potter. But obviously, Sofia Coppola’s hyper-satirized take on the worst of self-centered and avaricious celebrity culture is intentionally distancing.
Instead, a much earlier movie of Watson’s, the BBC’s Ballet Shoes, could provide her most Little Women-esque performance to draw from in terms of finding a crucial balance between likability and fallibility. Heidi Thomas’ period drama, which is based on Noel Streatfeild’s “Ballet Shoes,” centers on a woman who raises three orphaned girls that her well-to-do uncle has adopted over the course of his adventurous travels around the world. As his fortune runs out and the girls come of age, the family must do whatever they can to make ends meet while fostering the girls’ well-rounded education.
Watson plays Pauline, the oldest sibling with a proclivity for the stage who is briefly lured by the glamor of acting, although she eventually finds her feet again. Pauline is earnest without becoming one-note, and Watson portrays both her bratty and hardworking sides with gusto.
Of course, most of the roles in Little Women aren’t actually set in stone. Still, there’s no denying that Watson would make an ideal Meg in Gerwig’s adaptation. The role feels practically made for her.