When I asked you which Christmas-movie houses you’d like to see that I hadn’t featured yet, I got a lot of requests for Orchard House from the 1994 version of Little Women. I thought that was a great suggestion, so I watched it again over the weekend and revisited the warm and welcoming home of the March family. The sets in this one really are gorgeously done.
The exterior was built to look like the real Orchard House that was the longtime home of Amos Bronson Alcott and his family, including Louisa May Alcott, who set her novel there.
The real house in Concord, Massachusetts, looks almost identical to the movie version:
The exterior of the house in the movie was built on Vancouver Island in a forest where there were two houses already built next to each other. They constructed new facades for each of them.
Filming outside the Orchard House facade:
The location was chosen because there was a second house already next door, which was necessary for the story (Laurie, played by a young Christian Bale, lived there), and the driveways connected.
The movie was filmed at the beginning of summer in Vancouver, so they had to add the snow to make it look like winter.
Laurie’s house is a complete facade in front of a real house that the owners continued living in during filming. The director, Gillian Armstrong, points out that it must have been dark in there!
This is a sketch showing how they wanted the back of Orchard House to look (via the DVD special features):
And here’s how it looked in the movie:
The opening scenes of the town were shot in Deerfield, Massachusetts, in the winter (real snow). This was the first film that had ever been allowed to shoot there. They made an exception for Little Women because Louisa May Alcott was from the area.
The interiors of Orchard House were built on a soundstage, and that’s where the majority of filming was done.
The Production Designer was Jan Roelfs and the Set Decorator was Jim Erickson. They really did an amazing job bringing these houses to life and making them feel like they were real, and had real history in them.
Gillian Armstrong, the director, explained in the DVD commentary that although the sets were built to resemble the real Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa May Alcott lived, the rooms had to be built bigger to accommodate the filming equipment.
The colors are much starker and the look is more formal inside the real Orchard House, as you can see on the museum’s website. Most of the furnishings in the Orchard House Museum belonged to the Alcott family, and the rooms are kept the way they did when they lived there. I’d love to see it in person someday.
The filmmakers wanted their version to look warmer than the real thing. They chose “restful, earthy colors in the greens and grays so everything blends together and feels as one in the home,” according to Armstrong.
The Alcott family bought a 12-acre apple orchard in 1858 that came with two early-18th century houses. They moved the smaller of the two houses onto the back of the larger one and named it Orchard House.
Alcott based the Little Women on her real sisters and gave them all different names except for Beth, who had died. She said she couldn’t bear to change her name — she wanted the character to be as exactly as she remembered her sister.
The house in the movie looks as sad as its inhabitants do after Beth’s death:
Mary Wickes played Aunt March. (Loved her in White Christmas.) She died a year after the movie came out, in 1995.
Claire Danes was Beth:
The movie wasn’t greenlit until Winona Ryder, who was a rising star, was cast as Jo.
The cast had to take knitting and etiquette classes so they would know how to behave like young ladies of the 1860s.
I thought Susan Sarandon was wonderful as their “Marmee.”
Check out the woodwork in this bedroom:
The shot of Beth’s empty bedroom after she dies chokes me up every time:
Meg gives birth at home to twins:
The screenplay had the movie opening with the girls acting out one of Jo’s stories in the attic.
They later decided it made it too hard to get to know the characters, and the new beginning was shot of them wishing each other a Merry Christmas.
Here grown-up Amy (who was played by Kirsten Dunst in earlier scene) visits her sisters Beth and Jo in the attic. Amy, who was a budding artist in the novel, was based on Alcott’s sister May. She never became a successful artist as she hoped. She illustrated the first edition of Little Women, but her artwork got negative reviews.
May/Amy did, however, teach Daniel Chester French, who became an artist and sculptor. She gave him the tools that he eventually used to sculpt the statue of Lincoln that sits in the Lincoln Memorial. Pretty cool, right?
When May died, she left behind a 2-year old girl called Lulu. Alcott took the toddler in and raised her.
Meg kissing her future husband John (Eric Stoltz) at the front door:
One major change Alcott made in the story is the ending. Jo falls in love with a German professor and marries him. But in real life, the author had no real interest in men and never married.
In one interview she gave, she explained that she had decided to be a lifelong spinster “because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.”
She did, however, have a romance during her time in Europe with Ladislas Wisniewski. She later said that “Laddie” was the model for the character of Laurie in the book.
This was one of my favorite books as a girl — I had the big illustrated “Junior Version” (above). After I told my husband I wished I still had it, he found one on eBay for me for Christmas. How sweet is that? It was one of my favorite gifts this year.
Note: Most of these photos are screenshots I took while watching the movie, and the info about the sets came from the DVD Special Features.