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Little Women
  • Composed by Alexandre Desplat
  • Sony Classical / 63m

Great news for everyone who loves Little Women but think none of the previous six film adaptations quite did the job, as Greta Gerwig’s new version comes along; but disappointment for those hoping for a Ghostbusters-style gender bend (I guess adaptation number eight might do that). Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson are amongst the little women; Laura Dern and Meryl Streep amongst the big ones.

Thomas Newman scored the most recent high-profile version (which feels like it only just came out but it was actually 25 years ago!) and did so brilliantly, writing an extremely colourful and vibrant score which still stands as one of his finest. For the new one, Gerwig has turned to the ever-dependable Alexandre Desplat for whom this should certainly be fertile territory – his elegant brand of film music is perfect for period dramas like this – and he does not disappoint.

Alexandre Desplat

The summery, busy main theme is heard in the opening cue – the pizzicato strings (including harp) and fluttering winds give it a playful sound as well as a whole heap of charm and it’s a great way to get things rolling. After this there are several cues which are a little more restrained as the story develops – still the same instrumental palette, still the same pace and sense of life, but it’s just a bit smaller. The highlight from this sequence of tracks is the charming “Plumfield”.

Then in “Dance on the Porch” we get a gorgeous scherzo (ironically a little Thomas Newman-esque – think of those beautiful little set-pieces in Oscar and Lucinda) – it’s very brief but certainly a standout moment in the score, coming over as an exuberant celebration of innocence. This is a bit of a turning point – the colours, while still vibrant, start to change just a little. In the following cue, “Ice Skating”, the focus of the wind section is now on clarinet rather than flute – the strings are slightly longer-lined now – musically reflecting the characters’ growing maturity. Completing a sequence of three pieces of the highest calibre is “The Book”, a stirringly dramatic – and still ravishingly beautiful – piece highlighting the other orchestral colour favoured through the score, the piano, alongside the vibrant strings (concluding with a few bars of solo piano which provide just a little reminder of Desplat’s real breakthrough score, Birth).

“Father Comes Home” – eight tracks and twenty minutes into the album – provides the first music which is less than happy (it feels like a musical reflection of when I come home, dampening everybody’s mood) and then the sadness continues into “Christmas Breakfast” but as the fine piece develops, it becomes more wistful, brightness returning even if more subtly than before.

Another great theme is heard in “Telegram”, again with quite a dramatic heft behind it – Desplat manages to wring quite a lot of emotion out in that cue. Most of the score is romantic but it does get more overt at times, such as (not surprisingly) in “Laurie Kisses Amy”. The music is just so evocative – “Snow in the Garden” is so lush and sweet. As we near the end, “Amy, Fred, Meg & John” is initially quite downbeat with its sweeping string gestures before joy simmers up again, then “Dr March’s Daughters” is a serious and mature piece reflecting where things end up before the score comes to a close in the gorgeous “It’s Romance”.

Regular readers will know how much I appreciate and admire Alexandre Desplat but even by his standards Little Women is an elegant and impressive piece of work. The fairly long album swoops by without a single dull moment – a little like The Light Between Oceans a few years ago, we get a procession of wonderful new themes cropping up every few minutes, and a great musical narrative structure. It’s his finest work since that one and will I’m sure feature on most people’s best-of-the-year lists.

Rating: ***** | |

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