Once upon a time, a scruffy servant girl caught the fancy of a handsome prince while they were discussing social policy. The lowly teenager was no glamor puss, but she could quote Sir Thomas More’s Utopia from memory. The prince, a bit of an airhead himself, became infatuated with her intelligence and moral passion. The romantic premise of Ever After, a retelling of Cinderella, may sound like preposterous fairytale revisionism. Yet that contemporary, feminist spin is one of the main reasons this family movie manages to cast a spell. There is no fairy godmother here, no magic pumpkin; instead, Brothers Grimm whimsy gives way to more believable sorcery—the kind wrought by a heart of gold. And Drew Barrymore makes for a radiantly credible Cinderella.
The film is niftily framed as a story within a story. In the opening scene, the Grimm boys are summoned to visit the French “Grande Dame” (Jeanne Moreau), who pulls a jewelled slipper out of a chest and proceeds to tell them the real story of Cinderella. Sometime around the year 1500, a girl named Danielle has an idyllic life in the French countryside until her widower father returns home with his prune-faced new wife, Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston), and her two daughters. When Danielle’s father dies suddenly, she is relegated to servant status. Still, she grows up to be an essentially serene person—until she falls for Prince Henry (Dougray Scott). Henry is in the throes of a princely existen-
tial crisis: he simply does not want to grow up and be king. When he first encounters Danielle, she is trying to secure the release of a fellow servant who has been wrongfully accused of theft. Her strong views about the inequities of the country’s class system, as well as her love of books, are a perfect tonic for Henry’s vapid existence. At first, she dismisses him as a snobbish cupcake. But as her idealism starts to rub off on him, they fall in love.
Screenwriters Andy Tennant (who also directed), Susannah Grant and Rick Parks have come up with an ingenious substitute for the Fairy Godmother—Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo becomes involved with the lovers while visiting the French court. And when magic is required to combat the conniving Rodmilla, the Italian inventor is just the man to devise solutions for this rationalist Cinderella.
As the servant girl herself, Barrymore convincingly projects a sweet, guileless disposition. Huston, meanwhile, hams it up delightfully as Rodmilla. The script does make some attempt to provide a psychological basis for her cruelty, but ultimately Huston’s interpretation is ultra-Grimm.
Adults might gag at some of the more banal dialogue (Danielle to Henry: ‘Why did you have to be so wonderful?”). But the low points are mostly redeemed by wit and moments of originality and charm—Danielle harvesting honey or hunting truffles with a boar, Henry placing a jewelled slipper over Danielle’s dirty brown sock.
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