Ever After (1998)

  • Time: 121 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Andy Tennant
  • Cast: Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston, Dougray Scott


With the sudden death of her loving father, Danielle is made a servant by her new stepmother. She also has two new stepsisters, one quite kind but the other one really horrid. Still, Danielle grows up to be a happy and strong-willed young lady, and one day her path crosses that of handsome Prince Henry, who has troubles of his own at home. Luckily the nice Leonardo da Vinci is on hand to help all round.

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  • The story begins with words we know so well, “Once upon a time, there lived a young girl who loved her father very much.” But this little girl is not the kind to grow up waiting for Prince Charming to save her, nor is the stepmother without motivation for her cruelty, nor are the stepsisters uniformly ugly and wicked. Ever After is indeed the Cinderella story, glass slippers and all, but the revisions brought on this fairy tale manage to contemporize the tale without jeopardizing its essence.

    In 16th century France, there lives a spirited young woman named Danielle (Drew Barrymore) who lost her beloved father, Auguste (Jeroen KrabbĂ©), when she was eight years old. She has since been treated like a servant by her stepmother, the Baroness Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston), and stepsisters Marguerite (the lasciviously wicked Megan Dodds) and Jacqueline (a slyly sweet Melanie Lynskey). Rodmilla has harbored a hatred for Danielle ever since Auguste’s death. His final declaration of love was bestowed upon Danielle and not Rodmilla. A father’s love for his child cements a wife’s rage.

    Meanwhile, the rebellious crown prince Henry (Dougray Scott, delivering a solid, multi-faceted performance) is becoming increasingly frustrated with his station in life. “I wish nothing more than to be free of my gilded cage,” he utters, thoroughly disgusted. He and Danielle meet under inauspicious circumstances: he steals one of her family’s horses, she assaults him with apples. The second meeting, however, is wholly different. Disguised as high society in order to buy back a servant from the king’s court, Danielle impresses the prince with her wit and intelligence. She provokes in him the passion for life that he’s been lacking.

    Unfortunately, his parents are eager to marry him off to the daughter of Spain’s rulers. Rodmilla has her eyes set on Marguerite becoming Henry’s bride and goes all out to achieve her wish. So do all the other girls in the region. With the ball honoring Leonardo DaVinci (Patrick Godfrey) around the corner, all eyes are on Henry: will he announce his engagement to a bride that’s been chosen for him or a love he has chosen for himself?

    Ever After is an utterly sweet and endearing film. It carefully balances the fairy tale aspect with a more unvarnished reality. This is a very tricky concept. Ever After does not have the luxury to be as audacious an adaptation as Baz Luhrmann’s trippy take of William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, nor does the film have the less simple task of merely repositioning the characters in contemporary settings (a la Clueless or Great Expectations). The difficulty of Ever After is the simplicity of its source; it must be faithful to its origin while simultaneously severing ties to it. The miracle of Ever After is its ability to fulfill the fantasy while humanizing and modernizing it.

    The screenplay by director Andy Tennant, Susannah Grant and Rick Parks transforms Cinderella from passive icon to a headstrong young woman who is nobody’s fool. Danielle chooses to stay with Rodmilla in order to inherit what is rightfully hers once Rodmilla and daughters have moved up in the world. As cooperative as she is, she does not hesitate to speak up against her stepmother. Danielle does not pander to Henry; she constantly chides him for his arrogance and questions his narrow perspective. And not once does she need him to rescue her. In fact, she is the one who comes to his rescue. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, they encounter a band of gypsies who appropriate Danielle’s clothes. The leader, amused by her spunk, tells her that she can have whatever she can carry. With that, she picks the prince up and carries him off much to the delight of the gypsies and the audience.

    Rodmilla’s harsh treatment of Danielle is given basis. Rodmilla is a vain creature groomed by her mother to be nothing but upwardly mobile. After Auguste dies, she continues to live like royalty though her finances are dwindling. Huston gives an arch performance — her eyebrows raise and lower, her eyes widen and narrow, her lips pucker into a purr. She glides through the film as breezily as Rodmilla saunters through life. Contrast that with Barrymore who makes for a thoroughly captivating Cinderella with her daisies-butterflies-and-sunshine aura. She’s perhaps the only actress of her age group who could have played the part; watching her, you sense that she still believes in the magic.

    The dynamic between these women is truly fascinating. The only time Rodmilla’s mask slips provides a poignant and telling moment. “You have so much of your father in you,” she murmurs to the young girl. Those unguarded words and Danielle’s sincere joy at being acknowledged by her jars Rodmilla, who quickly recovers her armor. A later scene has Danielle reveal to Rodmilla that, for better or worse, Rodmilla is the only mother she has ever known. “Did you never love me even for a moment?” she asks. Rodmilla’s answer cuts to the bone and is familiar to anyone who has continually tried to please an oblivious parent. However, as refreshingly human as this adaptation is, one must note that 1997’s Snow White, with Sigourney Weaver as the vainglorious witch, presented a similar psychologisation of the other dark maternal figure in the fairy tale repertoire.

    The film is so winning in its adaptation that the prologue and epilogue, featuring the ever-elegant Jeanne Moreau, are unnecessary. It’s almost as if Tennant had lost doubts about his execution. He needn’t have worried: Ever After is suffused with a magical glow because it’s anchored in reality. The prologue and epilogue would only have been relevant if the film hadn’t succeeded on that level.

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