TL;DR – A joy to watch from start to finish.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Ever After Review –
There are a lot of films that landing when you were growing up, that no matter what, will always charm and excite. For a child of the 1990s, it is those films like 10 Things I Hate About You that hit you in your core no matter how many times you have watched them. Well, today we get to look at one of those films that does it better than many others, which can take you back in time with a single first trumpet swell.
So to set the scene, we open in the 19th century, when the Grande Dame (Jeanne Moreau) invited The Brother’s Grim to her bedside. She loves their collection of folk tales … well all that is bar one, The Little Cinder Girl. Noticing a painting on the wall, one of the brothers asks about its providence, which lets the Grande Dame tell the story of her great-great-grandmother Danielle de Barbarac (Drew Barrymore). As a young girl Danielle (Anna Maguire) lived in a grand manor house her father Auguste (Jeroen Krabbé). One day in his travels he brings home a new wife the Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent (Anjelica Huston) and her two daughters. It is another happy time, until when leaving on a trip to Avignon, Auguste has a heart attack at the gates of the property, leaving Danielle very much alone.
There is a lot to talk about with this film, but the first thing that sets this version apart from most of the others that I have seen is that it gives most of its characters agency, for better or worse. In many interpretations of the traditional story, Cinderella is just someone that sits back, and things happen to her. Not so here. When we first meet Danielle, she is out collecting apples when someone tries to steal her father’s horse. Instead of sitting back, she takes those apples and shows that anything can be a weapon if one chooses. She pretends to be a courtier to stop Maurice (Walter Sparrow) being sent off to the Americas, and even extricates herself from the ending.
Every character has a clear motivation and drive that helps define who they are. Rodmilla was thrown a lifeline with marring Auguste who was clearly a lower station than herself. But she was completely unprepared and unable to manage the farm she inherited as we see with how badly things have gone in the preceding years. She is also someone with a singular drive which is both her strength and one of her key detriments. Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) wants to escape the life he sees in his parents, even if that is superficial rich person’s cry about responsibility when they are significantly better off than the rest of the population. Even the two ‘evil’ step-sisters Marguerite (Megan Dodds) and Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey) have a depth to their characters. Marguerite has been the focus of her mother’s drive to increase her station, which means that she is resourceful and ambitious. However, that also means that she imitates her mother’s mother (and from that story, even her grandmother’s) coldness and cruelty. Jacqueline lives with all of the requirements demanded by her mother, so she looks good for the family, but with none care that Rodmilla shows Marguerite. Jacqueline is treated as an afterthought be nearly everyone. While that clearly has affected her, we see throughout the film that she has a great capacity to care for those around her and be quick-witted when the situation calls for it. Hell, even the sleazeball Monsieur Pierre Le Pieu (Richard O’Brien) has a motivation in that he has power and he likes exercising that power over other people.
It is also a film that revels in its time and setting, even if it does not care to be accurate. King Francis (Timothy West) was a real King of France, actually did invite Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey) to the country, and also had a son called Henry that went on to be King himself. Of course, Leo came to the country when Henry was a child and not in his 20s, and also Francis was never married to a Marie (Judy Parfitt), but none of those matters. The hints of reality help ground the story even if it is not entirely accurate. This is something that we have seen many other properties replicate like The Great, and it works. Though that is not to say that everything in the film has aged well because it hasn’t. There is a whole subplot with a group of people that the film refers to as a term that is mostly considered a slur today and plays into old stereotypes. So while it is still fun, Danielle walks out carrying Henry on her shoulders, it does not sit well today at all.
Also, you can’t help but get brought into this world with all the production elements that take us back in time. Filming on location in France gives the world a depth that is difficult to pull off in studio sets. Every scene brings the lusciousness and makes you pine for the French countryside, even if you know that the actual French royalty would not be living in something that small. Where you see this the most is when Danielle is chasing after Marguerite after Marguerite casually throws out that Danielle’s mother is dead. After a swift punch, we rush from the upstairs bedroom down the stone staircase, we run around the formal dining room, and then into the everyday dining room where there is a fire for the final confrontation, all in one take. It is a scene that you simply could not have in many films as it makes the most of the space they are working with and the poor steady-cam operator that had to race behind Drew and Megan with a large film camera on their shoulders.
Another place where you see that production is in George Fenton’s beautiful score full of strings of all persuasions from start to finish. Then the closer you get to royalty the more brass gets added to the equation until the sound is rumbling around, while oboes and bassoons sit underneath creating this odd feeling with their double-reeds. It runs from cold to warm through the film, but it always fills the soundscape perfectly at that moment and somehow does the dual job of harkening back to the past yet also being contemporary.
None of this would have worked if the cast was not game for everything that was thrown at them. Drew Barrymore has to be the emotional core of the film, and we see all the highs and the lows of Danielle’s life through her performance. Anjelica Huston is chewing every last bit of scenery that she can get and it is joyous to watch from the moment she appears on screen to her inevitable downfall. Patrick Godfrey as Leonardo da Vinci is a delight and is the perfect real-world analogy for a fairy godmother. Dougray Scott is as charming as ever, which is good because you would need to be to have the audience still rooting for you after the butterfly scene. It is also a film with some of the best quotes:
“Forgive me, your highness, I did not see you” “Your aim would suggest otherwise.”
“Why do you like to irritate me so” “why do you rise to the occasion.”
“You cannot leave everything to fate, boy. She’s got a lot to do. Sometimes you must give her a hand.”
“What bothers you more, stepmother? That I am common, or that I am competition?”
“Choose wisely, Henry. Divorce is only something they do in England.”
“I could hang you for this” “Not if you’re dead.”
In the end, do we recommend Ever After? Of course. It is a beautiful romance from start to end. It is a wonderful reinterpretation of a story that we have all heard before. The acting, sets, story, and well all of it comes together to create one of the best adaptations of a fairy tale, and simply the best rendition of the Cinderella story told so far.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Ever After: A Cinderella Story
Directed by – Andy Tennant
Screenplay by – Susannah Grant, Andy Tennant & Rick Parks
Based on – Cinderella by Charles Perrault
Music by – George Fenton
Cinematography by – Andrew Dunn
Edited by – Roger Bondelli
Production/Distribution Companies – Fox Family Films & 20th Century Fox
Starring – Drew Barrymore, Dougray Scott, Anjelica Huston, Megan Dodds, Melanie Lynskey, Patrick Godfrey, Lee Ingleby, Richard O’Brien, Timothy West, Judy Parfitt, Jeroen Krabbé, Jeanne Moreau, Anna Maguire, Peter Gunn, Mark Lewis & Toby Jones
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: na; Germany: 6; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: PG; United States: PG-13