Sunday, March 29, 2015

"The March Family Letters" -- a Guest Review by Birdie

The March Family Letters
by Birdie

With the huge popularity of 'vlog'-style adaptations of classic works of literature, it was only a matter of time before someone would adapt Little Women in this way. And lo and behold, since Christmas last year, The March Family Letters have started on YouTube. The modern day adaptation of Little Women is the first webseries by the Canadian Cherrydale Productions, but is broadcast on the Pemberley Digital channel, well-known for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved.

In the adaptation, the four March sisters, led (or should I say coerced?) by Jo, are filming updates for their mother 'Marmee,' who is deployed. The updates vary from snippets of everyday life to Meg's 'How to' videos, Amy trying to follow current YouTube memes, and Beth performing her self-written songs. Soon, we meet some friends of the sisters, their neighbor Laurie and his tutor Joan Brooks.

Before I give my opinion about this webseries, I must say I 'binge' watched it over the last week. I never know whether this is a good idea with webseries, or whether you lose something by not following the story in small chunks over time.

With that out of the way:  I'm not a big fan of The March Family Letters. I definitely think the idea behind the vlogs is a good one. It feels natural for a family to want to update a relative, and this technique is also used in From Mansfield with Love, a webseries based on Mansfield Park which I absolutely love. No, it's the characters which trouble me. I just can't connect the loud, pushy and weird-lipstick-wearing Jo of this adaptation with Alcott's beloved Jo. Nor does Meg feel quite right; she seems cold and almost arrogant. I read a comment beneath one of the videos about Amy, how she 'made Lydia Bennet look like a responsible adult.' So yes, I can see the characters resemble those that Alcott created, but they all seem inflated, larger-than-life and somewhat unrealistic. You might notice I didn't mention Beth. That's because I like her portrayal best of the four sisters so far. She's quiet, shy, but clearly talented, and loves her sisters and home-life very much. As to Laurie, I reserve my judgement, because I feel we haven't gotten to know him well enough. Which is in itself a little point of criticism, I feel like his closeness with the March sisters came out of nowhere.

So far, in the story line, I have not seen a lot of big changes from the novel. Of course there are the necessary changes to adapt a 19th century story to the modern-day, but they are done quite cleverly, I think. One example is how Amy's revenge against Jo is portrayed -- really quite shocking! The main changes are in the characters' everyday life. Instead of dreaming of becoming a writer, Jo is now in film-school and dreams of directing her own movies. This annoys me for some reason: Jo should just be a writer. Meg does a program in business engineering and Beth plays the guitar instead of the piano. And, maybe you understood from my short synopsis above: John Brooke has been changed into a woman, which might lead to a pretty big change later in the story.

What I also really miss in this series is the presence of Marmee. She doesn't necessarily need to be present in the videos herself, but her presence in the lives of her daughters is very much missed. In the novel she is such an important example and teacher for the girls, and here they have to discover and learn everything by themselves. There have not yet been a lot of learning moments by the characters, though there were a few poignant moments in the last episodes, so I have hope the series is finding its pace and its heart.

If you are a big fan of Little Women and the characters of Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy you might want to content yourself with the novel and the excellent adaptations already out there. But, if you're curious what these four sisters would be like in our 21th century, you could give The March Family Letters a try. I think I'll keep following it for a while and give the characters some time to develop and grow. Maybe they will grow on me!

(Note from Hamlette:  Thanks for this enlightening review, Birdie!  I'm hoping to find a bit of time to try this series for myself.)


  1. You know, I was just thinking about this since I tried out the series a couple of weeks ago. I was not a fan. Meg, in particular, ticked me off. Meg in the book was cozy, domestic, warm, the stand-in mother when Marmee wasn't there, and just a little bit boring (in a kind of charming way). This Meg? Cold, calculating, extremely academic (not a bad thing, but not in character), and quite snooty. In fact, I think it was Meg that turned me off of the show. Amy also enraged me. Her voice made me want to punch the computer screen. Soooo…that was probably another indication that the show wasn't for me.

    Like Birdie, the character who I truly loved was Beth. She became a 3-dimensional character, making me realize that it will be so much harder for all the viewers when she dies (as if it wasn't hard enough in the book) because we know her so much better.

    1. Good to hear I'm not the only one who was annoyed by the portrayal of Meg. It's been quite a while since I read the book, so I thought maybe I remembered only the good sides of 'book-Meg', but the further I got into the March Family Letters, the more she raised an aversion in me.

  2. Interesting review! I've seen several of these web-series of classics, of course, but I haven't watched this one yet. I kind of want to finish some of the others first. But I've found that I'm always torn. Some are amazing and others just don't translate well, and I'm wondering if maybe this falls into the latter category? Well, I'll watch it sometime soon and judge for myself.

  3. Hmm, can't really see Little Women as a vlog. Other classics, yeah, but not so much Little Women...I think part of the charm of LW is that it is a time gone by. So great job! I'm glad to hear about this;)

  4. Thanks for 'hosting' me, Hamlette!

  5. I agree. Have recently started watching these blogs, and no... They just don't seem to work for me. LW is one of my most fav books - my go to book when I am down. The characters seem reduced to caricatures. I hope they develop closer to their book counter parts. Will continue watching nevertheless.. Thanks for the review


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