Ever After Is Still the Best Cinderella Story
As much as I love Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, Ever After with Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott has been my favorite version of the classic tale for twenty years now.
It was a very romantic, very heartwarming, very amusing, very feminist movie, and I have been so charmed by it for the better part of my meager life, I continue to watch it over and over again. After watching it again recently, I realized I must've seen the film fifty times.
There are several reasons why this film is just so great, but to spare everyone the eventual headache of staring at a bright screen for prolonged periods of time, I will focus on the main character, Danielle de Barbarac.
Danielle (Drew Barrymore) is pretty awesome. No wonder Prince Henry falls in love with her! She is the "Cinderella" of our story, and she has a lot of great traits that make her a catch. Almost immediately, we learn that she is brave and clever.
We see how clever she is in the way that she manipulates her cruel and emotionally abusive stepmother (Angelica Huston) into thinking she lives to please her. During a scene early in the film, she puts on big innocent eyes and pretends that she gives a crap what the baroness thinks of her appearance, going so far as to say that she sometimes sits on her own, trying to "think of ways to please you, Stepmother."
The baroness buys the act because most narcissists are perfectly willing to believe that everyone worships and adores them -- and the baroness and her horrible daughter, Marguerite (Megan Dodds), are clearly narcissists.
When one of the servants is sold by the baroness to pay her taxes, Danielle is brave enough to pretend to be a noble in order to reclaim him. The punishment for doing this is pretty severe, (I mean, a woman who spends three days in the stocks is not going to spend them there unmolested) so it shows just how brave Danielle was in going to rescue a man who had taken part in raising her and was like family.
The man taking away the servant bellows in Danielle's face, telling her to move, and her cleverness is underscored again when the prince intercedes on her behalf. She recites Thomas Moore and is well-spoken enough (a side-effect of avid reading) that she can convincingly play a noble.
The prince is so smitten with her, he never notices that she's wearing a peasant's shoes.
Earlier in the film, the prince (Dougray Scott) while fleeing an arranged marriage, has his horse throw a shoe and steals the horse of Danielle's father instead (who had passed away about ten years before). Danielle beats the crap outta him with apples, leaving hilarious welts all over his face and knocking him clear off the horse.
It is a hilarious scene and probably one of the most memorable ones from the film.
One of the best things about Danielle is that she's not portrayed as some helpless damsel.
Being a "Strong Female Character" doesn't necessarily mean a woman who is badass or a great fighter or literally strong. People tend to take the phrase literally and think that making a female character supernaturally strong (coughBuffycough) is somehow "progressive."
A Strong Female Character is-- simply put -- a female character who is written well. She drives her own plot instead of being portrayed as a weak and helpless victim to the elements around her. She is not a plot device or an object to rescue or a thing to help the male characters along -- which, unfortunately, is so often the case.
A woman who stars in her own story should be driving her own story, and Danielle never fails to do that. When she sees the prince stealing her father's horse, she finds a way to kick his ass, and it's hilarious. She doesn't need to know Kung Fu or wield a sword. (Danielle can sword fight, but that's not what makes her a Strong Female Character.)
This is further demonstrated later when Danielle and the prince are cornered by bandits in the forest. Danielle is easily overpowered (I mean, there are, like, twelve of them) and when she demands her freedom, the leader of the bandits laughs and tells her that she is free to take anything she can carry.
This is a mockery of her as a woman. She has a weaker body than a man, so it's assumed she can't carry anything. In tight-lipped defiance, she picks up Prince Henry and carries him away.
The bandits are so amused that they laugh and call things even. Danielle and the prince then spend all night with the bandits, getting drunk and falling deeper in love as they play Rock, Paper, Scissors.
After spending time with Prince Henry, Danielle remembers what it's like to be treated like a person with kindness and respect, and now, she is taking no more shit from the baroness and Marguerite.
When Marguerite makes a comment about her deceased mother, she hauls off and punches her, throwing her clear over the bed.
This is a moment of character growth. Danielle has realized that she doesn't have to take crap from anyone, that she doesn't have to lie down and be emotionally abused in her own house.
Toward the end of the film, Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent has sold Danielle to Le Pieu (Richard O'Brien), a sleazy man who spent the better part of the film sexually harassing her.
Danielle has just been humiliated and rejected by the prince at the ball, who has a change of heart and comes to "rescue" her. But when he arrives, Danielle has already secured her own freedom, having threatened Le Pieu with a sword before walking out.
When a woman is staring in her own story, yes, she should be rescuing her own damn self. That's just an integral part of being the protagonist, as a protagonist is usually someone extraordinary enough to manage such a feat.
What makes the scene particularly touching is the fact that Danielle now has no where to go. She can't return home, she has no family, no one who can help her, and her heart has just been broken. She is essentially homeless and without hope when she walks out of Le Pieu's castle, only to come face-to-face with Prince Henry, who rescues her in a different manner, with his love.
And after everything Danielle endures, there is nothing so satisfying as seeing her at the end of the film, a beautiful princess, who the baroness and Marguerite must now publilcly bow to.
It never ceases to be gratifying when the two witches are sent off to do laundry for all of eternity, while Danielle gets to live it up in the castle.
The story tugged at our heartstrings, made us sympathize with Danielle, made us root for her, and at the end of it all, she gets to live happily ever after in a beautiful castle with a handsome man who adores her.
Doesn't get much better than that.
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