My Friday blogs are usually about a classic (old) movie that I enjoyed and want others to know about and try to see. Today’s blog is also about a movie, but a newer one, 1998’s Ever After, a refreshing new look at Cinderella, starring Drew Barrymore as the main character. Today’s blog is also my contribution for The Fairy Tale Blogathon, hosted by Movies Silently. Be sure to visit that site to read other great pieces written by other bloggers, for a look at fairy tales in the movies.
Ever After opens with two gentlemen leaving a carriage to enter a beautiful chateau. They are none other than the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm(Joerg Stadler, Andy Henderson). They have arrived at this chateau to interview Grande Dame Marie Therese(Jeanne Moreau) to compare their story of Cinderella with what she knows about the true story of Cinderella. The Grande Dame is descended from the real Cinderella, whose real name was Danielle de Barbarac. Out of a treasure box, the Grande Dame takes out the glass slipper(designed for the film by Salvatore Ferragamo) and from that point forward the real story of Cinderella is told via flashback.
Drew Barrymore is Danielle. She plays the part with sincerity, courage, bravado, a lot of smarts, and some necessary sass. This isn’t a retelling of the Disney animated version so there are no songs, no pumpkin is magically changed into a carriage, no mice become horses, no fairy godmother. This version is told as historical fiction; a story that the Brothers Grimm researched and then changed into a fairy tale.
We first meet Danielle when she is 8 years old. She is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her beloved Papa(Jeroen Krabbe) and his new wife and her two little daughters. Danielle is a smart girl, a tomboy, and she gets into a mud battle with her neighboring playmate, Gustave, which doesn’t make a good impression on her new stepmother, Rodmilla de Ghent(Anjelica Huston) or her two daughters, Marguerite and Jacqueline. Papa gives Danielle a book as a gift: Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. He also tells her he has to go away for a week on another business trip but to use that time to get to know her stepmother and stepsisters better. Danielle promises to try and on the morning of her papa’s departure, he falls from his horse as he nears the main gate to his property, and dies of a heart attack. Amid Danielle’s broken-hearted sobs, stepmother Rodmilla is crying, but crying out for Auguste to not die and leave her in this new place alone. We begin to see the true nature of Rodmilla in this scene. She notices as Auguste lays dying that he strokes Danielle’s face and tells her he loves her, but he doesn’t tell Rodmilla anything so dear. That will lead to her jealousy of Danielle, and we see how much Rodmilla dislikes the new home and community that she has moved to.
The film then jumps ahead 10 years and now Danielle is 18, working as a hired hand at her own home, and she has to bravely fight off a man who is trying to steal one of her late papa’s horses. She succeeds to knock the thief from the horse with some well aimed apples and the thief reveals himself to be Prince Henry(Dougray Scott) who is on the run. His father, King Francis,(Timothy West) has arranged Henry’s marriage to a Spanish princess and Henry wants no part of it. Running away is Henry’s solution and he needs a fresh horse. Danielle immediately apologizes for her behavior to the prince and he forgives her, and hands her a bag of gold coins to cover the cost of the horse. Danielle rejoices at receiving the coins and shows them to the two older ladies in her house’s kitchen. A husband of one of the ladies had been recently sold as a slave to cover some of Rodmilla’s debts, and Danielle puts on her finest dress and goes to the King’s castle herself, with the coins, to buy back her servant before he is shipped away to America. In arguing for her servant to be freed, Prince Henry arrives back at the castle after being caught by his father’s men, and Henry decides to debate this new maiden about poverty, about those who turn to a life of crime, and a rich man’s responsibilities to his fellow “rustics” as he calls them. Henry doesn’t recognize Danielle in her finery and he is intrigued by this “mystery” girl. He tries to find out her name and Danielle lies, telling the Prince that she is Comtesse Nicole de Lancret, her mother’s maiden name. As he is about to make a date to visit this girl, his mother, Queen Marie(Judy Parfitt-now playing the addle-headed nun on Call the Midwives!) arrives to greet him and Danielle successfully uses this moment to slip away from Henry and his prying questions, and escape a date with him.
Danielle has 3 servants loyal to her: Maurice, Paulette, and Louise. They aid her a lot, especially when she is freed from a pantry/dungeon by none other than Leonardo DaVinci(yes, that DaVinci!) and her childhood pal, Gustave. Danielle-pretending to be Comtesse Nicole, does have several dates with Prince Henry which cause them to fall in love with one another and they also get to battle a band of Gypsies! There is also a villain in this film, Pierre Le Pieu(Richard O’Brien), and he is creepy and evil. He wants Danielle to be his wife due to the land and house that she owns that can be added to his coffers. Danielle is, of course, able to outwit this baddie. He comes into the film in the last half hour and he’s so crude as he tries to seduce Danielle that for this reason, I cannot recommend Ever After for the entire family to see. I would say teens and adults can, but not the kiddies! Perhaps fast-forward thru the scenes with the icky Pierre if kids are watching this film with you.
Other than Pierre, I really enjoyed this movie. It was filmed on location in France, with many scenes shot in the outdoors with natural lighting that shows the sparkling sun, scarlet and golden leaves falling from the trees, the french countryside. It’s a very pretty film to view. The costumes and sets are period perfect and Huston gets to wear some sky-high headdresses!
As I said, Barrymore is spot on with a Cinderella that is refreshing and not the singing girl who is demure and can get mice to sew her a dress. The rest of the cast are also excellent in their roles. Anjelica Huston is the evil stepmother,at first displaying her evil nature in sneaky, quiet ways, but growing more physical in her meanness as the story advances. Megan Dodds plays Marguerite as a mean, snot of a girl. Melanie Lynskey plays Jacqueline as a nicer stepsister who knows her mom and sister are bad, but is clueless as to how she can stop their wrong ways. Dougray Scott is rugged and dashing as Prince Henry, but he is also a conflicted young man. He wants to live his life on his own terms, find his own wife, but also wants to show respect to his parents. He loves Comtesse Nicole(Danielle) and at the same time is exasperated and challenged by her intellect and the debates they always seem to fall into. I think it was a coup for the casting agents to get the superb French actress Jeanne Moreau to play the Grande Dame, who opens the film and brings it to a satisfying close. Yes, this film does have the ultimate Happily Ever After ending, but there are a few detours that pop up before that ending arrives. The screenplay was written by Susannah Grant, Rick Parks, and Andy Tennant, who also directed the film. It was a Mireille Soria production and released to theatres by 2oth Century Fox. I have to also recognize the music for this film, by George Fenton. It was beautiful, medieval sounding at times, and exciting during various chase scenes. It just enhanced the flow of the film so well.
I was able to view Ever After through the magic of my Roku box and Amazon Prime streaming. It is probably available at your local movie dvd renting store, it’s at Amazon.com for purchase and a kind soul has put the movie up on Youtube in 10 minute installments.
I’ll close with some more scenes from this delightful look at a classic fairy tale.