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story.lead_photo.caption Little Women stars (clockwise from top left) Willa Fitzgerald as Meg, Kathryn Newton as Amy, Annes Elwy as Beth and Maya Hawke as Jo. The two-part series kicks off at 7 p.m. today on AETN.

Which of the little women is your favorite -- Meg, Jo, Beth or Amy?

That's like picking between Ginger and Mary Ann or Betty and Veronica, but if I had to name just one, she'd be Jo, the feisty one.

But each of Little Women's distinctively different March sisters is special in her own way and Masterpiece has done a commendable job in casting the latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's beloved 1868 coming-of-age tale that is based loosely on Alcott and her three sisters.

The two-part Little Women on Masterpiece will air on PBS and AETN beginning with an hour at 7 p.m. today and two hours at 7 p.m. May 20.

Masterpiece publicity boasts that the classic "has been loved by generations of women worldwide," but I'm neither a woman nor little and I found the series thoroughly delightful.

Beginning in 1861 against the backdrop of the Civil War, Little Women follows the four March sisters over several years "on their journey from childhood to adulthood as they navigate what it means to be a young woman -- from sibling rivalry and first love, to loss and marriage."

Those who read the novel in their younger years should be pleased to revisit the tale on Masterpiece. It's like rediscovering an old friend.

One thing to note: In the novel, the girls range in age from 16 to 12, but try as they might, the older actresses in the series can't quite pull off being that young. The series seems a bit fuzzy about their exact ages. Let's just call them teens. And don't forget, in the 1860s, a girl was already a spinster if she was still unmarried at age 20.

Here's the lineup.

Meg: The oldest daughter, Meg (Margaret) is the responsible peace-maker, a nurturing sister and already a governess. She's the model of patience and a bit of a romantic. She dreams of falling in love and starting a family. Willa Fitzgerald (Royal Pains), who is 27, plays the role.

Jo: The feisty, independent 15-year-old second daughter is a perennial fan favorite. Jo (Josephine) dreams big. A tomboy with a quick temper, Jo becomes best friends with the new boy next door, "Laurie" Laurence (Jonah Hauer-King), who eventually pines for more than just friendship.

Jo is played by 19-year-old Maya Hawke in her first role. She steals every scene she's in, but that is no surprise. Hawke is the daughter of actors Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.

Beth: Gentle and compassionate, Beth (Elizabeth) is the most selfless sister. Welsh actress Annes Elwy, 25, plays the shy 13 year old.

Amy: She's the artistic and impulsive youngest daughter. Played by 21-year-old Kathryn Newton (Halt and Catch Fire), Amy begins the novel as vain and self-centered. That changes.

Marmee March: The saintly, loving matriarch is played by Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves), who holds the family together while father is off to war.

Aunt March: If you want one final reason to watch the series, here it is. Fussy, snobbish Aunt March is played by the legendary Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote). It's a tour de force.

The adaptation was written by Heidi Thomas, creator of Call the Midwife, who said, "Little Women is not only one of the most famous books in the world, it's one of the most loved.

"There's a carriage and a boldness about the March girls that does feel very modern. There were very few careers that were available to women and I think it's marvelous that Marmee believed her daughters could be independent.

"This novel has delivered something powerful to young women and young families and some young men as well over and over again for 150 years. That's the power of Alcott's writing."

There's more. If you'd like to learn more about Alcott's power, then stay tuned following the end of the series at 9 p.m. May 20 when AETN airs the special Louisa May Alcott: American Masters.

The 90-minute documentary "examines the literary double life of this celebrated author, who wrote scandalous works under a pseudonym."

The film shows how Alcott "had a reputation as a morally upstanding New England spinster [and] reflected the conventional propriety of mid-19th century Concord, Mass."

However, Alcott was also a free thinker, "with democratic ideals and progressive values about women." In a fact not discovered until the 1940s, Alcott wrote some 30 pulp fiction thrillers under the pseudonym of A.M. Barnard. Oh, my.

And more. Following all that, AETN will air Orchard House: Home of Little Women at 10:30 p.m. May 20. The half hour special looks at the 350-year-old home in Concord where Little Women was written.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne were Alcott's neighbors, and their influence and that of the home on her is told through archival photographs, letters and journal entries.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

Style on 05/13/2018

Print Headline: AETN's Little Women gets the casting just right

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