With a new wave of fairytale based movies hitting the theaters and Blu-ray sales this winter season, it seemed like this was a good time to remind readers of a sweet sleeper from the late 90s that they may want to consider taking a good look at. The movie starts in the mid-1800s in France. The Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm (Joerg Stadler) and Jacob (Andy Henderson) are meeting with the Grande Dame (Jeanne Moreau), an exiled noblewoman whose lineage goes back to the royal house of France from before the Revolution. In her home is a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey). It is a simple monochromatic portrait of a young woman, and it is here were the tale of Ever After really begins, when the Grande Dame shows the brothers a slipper of 16th century design with a glass heel. She then tells them the story of Danielle de Barbarac, her ancestor with a complicated past, and how things are not so magical as they or their rival, Charles Perrault thinks these folk tales might be.
The screen flips us back three hundred years ago to a young girl in a French manor house, and she is looking forward to seeing her father, Auguste (Jeroen Krabbé) return home, and is thrilled that he as remarried. She has a new mother now, and two new sisters. Immediately, she feels the coldness of this new wife, the haughty Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent (Anjelica Huston). Her eldest daughter, fair Marguerite (Elizabeth Earl) is very similar to her mother, and the younger darker Jacqueline (Alex Pooley) is sweeter, but fears going against her mother’s rule. Danielle has been raised by her father, a man whom loves books, science, and progressive ideas. His way of thinking is dangerous to the traditional nobility, and Danielle is more like him than anyone, and does everything with a passion for life. Sadly, for Auguste, that life will be cut short by a heart attack, and now both Rodmilla and Danielle are distraught, but for every different reasons.
Cut to ten years later. The noblewomen are still living they are used to, but funds are starting to dry up. Danielle has become a servant in the household, but she still pretty much runs it. She has a peculiar habit of staying up late reading by the fireplace, and tends to fall asleep there, and getting cinders on her clothes and in her hair, thus Marguerite (Megan Dodds) now calls her “Cinder-ella”. Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey) remains silent and dutiful, because she knows one disagreeable word would make her fate the same as Danielle’s (Drew Barrymore).
Meanwhile, at the royal palace, King Francis (Timothy West) is bound and determined to make sure his son marries a Spanish princess to maintain a peace treaty with Spain, and Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) will have nothing to do with it. His mother, Queen Marie (Judy Parfitt) is more patient, and believes that the prince should find a love match, since she really holds no love for her husband, since theirs was an arranged marriage. Henry escapes to the countryside to get out of his arrangement, and his horse goes lame as he is travelling over the De Ghent farm. He borrows a horse from the stable, and is about to make off with it when Danielle is coming out of the orchard. She recognises the horse as her father’s, but does not recognise the thief. She pelts him with apples until he falls off the horse, and soon finds that she has made a big mistake when his hood falls off, and finds the thief to be Prince Henry. This is just the first of many encounters Danielle and Henry will have before they actually start dating secretly.
Just like the old tale, there is a huge masked ball, but before that, Baroness De Ghint is determined to make sure Marguerite is married to Prince Henry before the Spaniards have their way, but when she finds it is her own stepdaughter that has been stealing Henry’s attentions, she lashes out. Add a not so magical, but ultimate Renaissance man, Leonardo Da Vinci, in as a wise friend to both Danielle and Henry, and you do still get that magical spell that has captivated everyone with this story for hundreds of years. No matter how many variations on a theme there have been (Ella Enchanted, the 1978 TV musical “Cindy“), we never tire of the tale of the cinder girl. The Grande Dame said it best in her ending line, “The thing is, not only did they live happily ever after, the point is, they actually lived.”
I give this film a Musing review of