Ever After (1998)
A few weeks ago when I reviewed the Rodger’s and Hammerstein Cinderella musicals, I promised I’d be doing more Cinderella movies in the coming months. Here’s a different version of the fairy tale which is both more and less grounded in actual history but which I find charming all the same.
Jeremy Perkins at IMDB has done a marvelous job of writing a plot synopsis so I’m just going to credit him and borrow it for use here.
“With the sudden death of her loving father (Jeroen Krabbé), Danielle (Drew Barrymore) is made a servant by her new stepmother (Angelica Huston). She also has two new stepsisters, one quite kind (Melanie Lynskey) but the other one really horrid (Megan Dodds). Still, Danielle grows up to be a happy and strong-willed young lady, and one day her path crosses that of handsome Prince Henry (Dougray Scott), who has troubles of his own at home. Luckily the nice Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey) is on hand to help all round.”
This version does make an attempt to ground the story in actual historical events even if, with a lot of them, it grabs history in a headlock and gives it a noogie. The film is set in France with various events in it dated to the early 15th century. If you want to read all the anachronisms, go to the goofs page of the IMDB and confirm all those niggling things that make you question, “what….?” as the film goes on. Even though things like this usually make me cringe, I find the movie’s strengths more than enough to balance them out.
What do I like? For one, the fact that Danielle is an intellectual who is first attracted to Prince Henry because he can discuss “Utopia” with her. And sure he’s handsome but he also listens enough to her likes and dislikes to offer her the one thing she’d be sure to love – access to the Royal library. Gotta love a man who pays attention. Instead of just wittering on about the ball and how handsome Henry is, the film has discussions of philosophy and shows Danielle out hunting for truffles with her pig. It is France, after all!
Also Danielle isn’t just interested in discussing philosophy – she lives by it. She’s the one who cares for her father’s estate even as her stepmother bleeds it dry and the one who looks after the servants going so far as to risk punishment to save one. She also saves Prince Henry with a handy fireman’s carry. When she’s put into the hands of her worst enemy, she’s the one who manages to rescue herself – even if I don’t believe that her father would have turned her into an expert swordswoman before he died when she was only 8 years old. Still, the look on Henry’s face when he rides up to save her and realizes she’s already saved herself is priceless.
Believe it or not, I also like the fact that Henry isn’t perfect. He’s actually a bit of a handful for his parents and initially seems more interested in Danielle because she doesn’t kow tow to him. He does show his feet of clay during the ball scene but receives two set downs for it – one when da Vinci basically tells Henry he doesn’t deserve Danielle and two when his foreign bride wails aloud at the thought of marrying him thus showing him he’s not the bee’s knees he thinks he is. And he does give a marvelous groveling scene as he proposes to Danielle. Plus, there are some nice, well stuffed codpieces to be seen throughout the film. Oh come on, you know I’m shallow that way.
As good a job as Barrymore and Scott do, they are backed by a great cast including Huston who manages to make the evil stepmother character delightfully wicked without turning her into such a caricature. The stepsisters aren’t physically ugly and one is actually fairly kind. Jacqueline helps the main romance along in the end and is rewarded with her own love while the evil sister and stepmother get their just comeuppance. I love the way Danielle is magnanimous yet still gets her revenge.
There are some things about the film which might turn people off. The historical anachronisms are there in plenty. As well, the delivery of the dialogue is somewhat period “stilted” though not badly enough to be too distracting once you’re used to it. But as a reward there are lovely costumes and scenery including the ChÃ¢teau de Hautefort with which I am in love.
I think perhaps the main reason I end up liking this film so much is the fact that loving Danielle makes Henry want to be a better man. As well, Danielle has more to her than just a pretty face and the fact that her foot fits a particular shoe. Even if that shoe was made by Farragamo! Plus who can resist a fairy godmother in the form of Leonardo da Vinci? B