“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” said Jo March in the opening line of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. One-hundred fifty years later, on Christmas, comes the first screen adaptation filmed in Massachusetts, where Alcott set her classic semi-autobiographical novel.
Director Greta Gerwig brings the book to vivid life, featuring a star-studded cast of Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, and Meryl Streep. The heartwarming story follows four sisters as they come of age in post-Civil War Concord, Massachusetts.
Out of countless film adaptations of Little Women, Gerwig’s, presented by Sony and Columbia, is the first shot completely in Massachusetts. The team used several North Shore locations, like the beaches of Ipswich and Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, along with several other locations on the North Shore, like downtown Lawrence, which appears as New York City, and the Lyman Estate in Waltham.
Gerwig and her team filmed the movie in October 2018, in locations from Boston to Stoughton to Groton. Discover all the Massachusetts locations used for filming in this map published by the MA Film Office. They shot inside such famous Boston locations as the Colonial Theatre and the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. Historic Beacon Hill houses appear as homes that the girls visit. The Stoughton train station serves as the Concord train station, and they visited Groton to shoot at Gibbet Hill Farm.
Catherine Shortliffe, engagement manager at Fruitlands, showed Gerwig and a team of five or six scouts into the museum to confirm it as a location months prior to the filming. “Greta talked about how great it was to have the connection to Massachusetts, where the Alcotts actually lived,” she said. The team wanted the movie to have the most accurate setting possible. “That’s what drew the scouts here in the first place.”
Gerwig used Fruitlands, where the Alcotts lived for seven months, as Meg and John’s home when they are just married. The property consists of a handful of houses, and while the Alcotts resided in the Fruitlands Farmhouse, the big red house, the movie used the modest yellow house, the Shaker Museum, originally the office of the property, for the filming. “I remember them pointing out how the house was perfect for the newlyweds—it was small, cozy, older,” said Shortliffe. “It was cool to be a fly on the wall for that.”
“Harvard easily lends itself to feeling like you’ve stepped back in time,” said Fruitlands director Michael Busack. “Harvard is a place apart. The view, the vibe—it’s more preserved.”
They filmed for two days at Fruitlands—the first day was sweltering and sunny, and they needed to bring in an air conditioner. The second was raw and in the fifties. Shortliffe said “they got the true New England experience.”
While the Shaker Museum, where the above photo was shot, isn’t open to the public for the season until April 18, 2020 (it has no heat), Fruitlands offers a handful of Little Women-themed events this winter, including Little Women Storytime on December 28, a talk with Anne Boyd Rioux, author of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, on January 16, and Little Women Tea Party on February 23.
The historic Crane Estate in Ipswich has been the backdrop for many movies over the years—The Crucible, The Witches of Eastwick, and The Equalizer, to name a few. This time around, the chauffeur’s quarters at Castle Hill function as Amy’s art studio, and the grounds outside as a garden in Paris. Crane Beach also appears when the girls enjoy beach days.
“[The Little Women shots] are the most beautiful that our property has ever been depicted in the movies,” said Crane Estate director Peter Pinciaro. “The beach scenes look like impressionist paintings come to life.”
Pinciaro said that Castle Hill worked well for the movie’s European scenes because the property looks like both an “English country estate or an Italian landscape” at once, with its “old gravel roadways, carriage paths, and pines.” The gorgeous, isolated landscape plus the proximity to the city make the property ideal for large-scale cinematic productions. “It’s pretty unusual to have an unspoiled strand of sand and sand dunes with this proximity to Boston,” said Pinciaro.
While the chauffeur’s quarters aren’t open to the public, they can be seen through the window from the rose garden, open daily.
Boston mayor Marty Walsh has proclaimed December 18 “Little Women Day” in town. Celebrate the day by taking a drive to the North Shore filming locations, or just stay in and re-read passages from the book.
“Gerwig’s Little Women demands its viewers reconsider these familiar characters and what we’ve always assumed they stood for,” wrote Alison Willmore in her Vulture review. “It doesn’t just brim with life, it brims with ideas about happiness, economic realities, and what it means to push against or to hew to the expectations laid out for one’s gender.”