Why Do We Love Cinderella? (A Review of Ever After: A Cinderella Story)

The story of Cinderella embodies timeless human desires and fantasies – virtues/immoralities justly repaid and dreams of remarkable good fortune come true. And there is little wonder that since the time of Greek historian Strabo of first century B.C., if not earlier, thousands of variants have been created cross culture and media. Most influential to this day are probably French author Charles Perrault’s version and German authors Brothers Grimm’s later retell of the story, lending inspirations to many others.

Most memorable to me is however Disney’s animated film from 1950. So when I came across the 1998 20th Century Fox movie Ever After: A Cinderella Story, I pictured the sylphlike Cinderella singing Dreams Come True, chirpy birds, peeping mice, fairy godmother and glass slippers… As lovely as it is, a simple fairy tale can no longer hold my attention. I was about to click it away when the theme music started. The strain is captivating, tender and passionate all at once, I was transfixed. What followed continued to keep me glued to my chair until the end of the movie.

I was thoroughly wowed. The movie score is truly beautiful but obviously it is just one of the many achievements of this production. Assembling smoothly such mood setting score, brilliant script, transforming costumes and make up, picturesque locations in Dordogne, France and solid cinematography, Ever After tells an epic love story that is more than fairy god mother’s magical wand can render.

The movie starts with Grande Dame Queen of France meeting the Grimm brothers at her castle where she sets the record straight about “the little cinder girl”, showing a jewel-encrusted glass slipper, eliciting from one of the Grimm brothers the exclamation “Then it is true!”, and telling the story of Danielle de Barbarac.

Thereupon the story of Danielle de Barbarac unfolds in 16th century France under the rule of king Francois I. This premise of Ever After is skillfully and cleverly set; the underlying social theme of Renaissance lends inspiration for its plot development, adds complexity, richness and plausibility.

At eight, Danielle’s father, a peasant, marries Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent, a widow with two daughters, and dies shortly afterward, leaving Danielle ‘Utopia’ by Thomas Mores as the last of the books he brings home to her from his travel, which she will memorize by heart and spirit. Ten years later, Danielle, portrayed by Drew Barrymore, is no longer a tomboy but a beautiful, compassionate and intelligent young woman, who is made to work as a servant alongside Maurice, Louise and Paulette, the only servants left at her father’s manor that has languished in the hands of her stepmother. Danielle serves obediently to win the love of stepmother and sisters and struggles to keep the household together. Love however will guide her and eventually her spirits and strength find their way. Rescuing Maurice, she is courageous. Her defining moment is however when she passionately declares: “A country’s character is defined by its everyday rustic. They are the legs on which you stand. Such positions require respect.” Barrymore is lovely in the movie and turned out a stellar performance but I find her very prettiness and sweetness make her just a tad more Cinderella than Danielle.

Henry, portrayed by Dougray Scott, is the crown prince of France, who is “in many ways, still a boy”. He rebels against an arranged marriage to Spain’s princess that his father King Francois I signs into a treaty with the Spanish King. He does not want to be king for “being so defined by one’s position is insufferable” and he wants “nothing more than to be freed of his gilded cage.” That is, until he finds love that transforms him and gives him purpose. Dougray put in an attractive blend of manly appeal and puerility, which befits the character nicely. At the end, Prince Henry proposes thus, “I kneel before you, not as a prince, but a man in love. But I would feel like a king if you would be my wife”. That is a princely manifesto of love!

Stepmother, portrayed by Angelica Huston, is given more dimensions and hence more interesting. Yes, she is still cold, cruel and crafty. Determined to make her daughter Marguerite the future queen, she will still crush Cinderella, or rather Danielle, and whatever is in the way. But she also gives glimpse of a tender, feminine, seductive side and a sense of humor, albeit repulsive. I find Huston’s rendition exquisite.

While both stepsisters fawn to the prince like every eligible courtier girl, the two sisters are day and night. Jacqueline is gaucherie but kind. The social climbing Marguerite is nasty and foul tempered to some but can also put up a handsome and artful performance that might possibly steal some prince’s heart.

I like Queen Marie of France, mother of Prince Henry, stately, affable and quite empathetic. King Francois I is more likable than expected, dominating but also somewhat open-minded and can be reasonable. Leonardo da Vinci, the court’s resident artist, is the genius who retires fairy godmother from this story. Danielle asks: “Signore, a bird may love a fish but where will they live?” Da Vinci answers: “Then I shall make you wings.” Who needs fairy god mother when there are heroes like Da Vinci, Gustav and Maurice?

Sense of humor is another quality infused into this story smartly. Kudos to screen plays Susannah Grant and Andy Tennant who is also the director; and as it is the case with any successful production, to its supporting cast who put in an integral performance.

An utterly enjoyable film, it is one of the handful movies I can watch over and over again and today I am the proud owner of an Ever After DVD.

P.S. I must say I do not get the choice of song that plays at the end, accompanying the credit list, ‘Put your arms around me’. A strange song, it is totally irrelevant and its mixing with the movie is ridiculous and ludicrous.

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