Cinderella, like Treasure Island, has been done over and over and over again. Only instead of the adaptations all drawing on a single original source, every culture has its own version, the earliest-known being found in ancient Greece. Some versions have one royal ball, some have three, some have a fairy godmother and one has a dove in a graveyard bestowing Cinderella’s finery. Some of the versions have a glass slipper, others have a different article of clothing for Cinderella to leave behind. Some of them get a bit grisly–the Brothers Grimm version has the stepsisters cutting off big toes or heels in their desperate attempts to fit into the glass slipper. The Disney adaptation is the most widely-known to contemporary audiences, but 1998’s Ever After made a big splash when it gave familiar elements of the Cinderella tale new dimensions. Having Drew Barrymore in the principal role didn’t hurt, either.
So, everyone knows the basic plot: Cinderella’s stepmother (Anjelica Huston) makes her work like a dog, Cinderella defies both her stepmother and the odds to go to the royal ball, she leaves behind a glass slipper, the prince seeks her out, and they live happily ever after. Only in Ever After, Cinderella’s real name is Danielle; in fact, the closest thing we hear to “Cinderella” in the film is “Cindersoot.” Unlike other versions, Danielle isn’t the only servant in the house–there’s also Louise and Paulette, plus Maurice, Louise’s husband. Danielle is an avid reader, she is resourceful, and she is a leader among the servants, who still see her as their mistress, even though she’s fallen on hard times.
Danielle’s stepmother, Rodmilla, and two stepsisters, Marguerite (Megan Dodds) and Jacqueline (Melanie Lynsky) live like royalty, of course. They spend like they’re royalty, too, except that they’re not–the estate is heavily in debt, and Rodmilla sells the household goods to pay it off. She also sells Maurice to a slave trader bound for America.
Meanwhile, Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) is balking under what is expected of him by his parents, as well as his approaching arranged marriage to a Spanish princess. He steals, er, borrows Danielle’s father’s horse one day so he can make a break for it, and Danielle pelts him with apples because she thinks he’s a common thief. Henry reveals himself to be the prince (as if the purple cloak isn’t a dead giveaway), and drops a fair amount of gold coinage on the grass to keep Danielle quiet. He then tries to bolt, but changes his plans when he meets a band of gypsies trying to rob a fine coach on its way through the forest. Lo and behold, it’s Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey), who is en route to the palace to stay with the king and queen for awhile.
Danielle uses the coins to win back Maurice, but first she has to look the part, so she puts on one of her mother’s dresses and her friend Gustave helps her with her hair. The disguise works like a charm, even fooling Prince Henry, who doesn’t make the connection between the lovely courtier and the servant who threw apples at him.
Thus begins the major plotline of Ever After: mistaken identity. Danielle has to maintain an elaborate façade to keep the Prince from realizing she’s really a servant. Fortunately, she has a fairly wide selection of her late mother’s old wardrobe at her disposal. Including (spoiler alert) glass slippers. Add in her mother’s name, Nicole, and the illusion is complete. Danielle’s not a liar, but she feels backed into a corner because the prince is so enamored with her. As she begins to love him, the ruse is harder and harder to keep up.
Besides Danielle’s double life, there is the matter of all the intrigue surrounding an eligible prince with cold feet. Rodmilla and Marguerite are shameless social climbers, and they set out to make Marguerite the prince’s object of desire. Oh, they are pretentious, not to mention deadly serious, so it’s hilarious that the royals like Danielle better. Marguerite has a tantrum when the queen praises Danielle, except that Her Highness calls her Nicole. Marguerite storms off a ways, has a fit, and then comes back as cool as you please. “There was a bee,” she tells the queen. Snicker. Yeah, right.
While all this is going on, the other stepsister, Jacqueline, is left on the sidelines, her mother and sister being almost as mean to her as they are to Danielle, even telling her, “You’re only here for the food.” Ouch. The worm does turn eventually, though, and it’s a heavenly sight.
Since it’s a Cinderella story, there is of course a ball, only there’s no fairy godmother–only Leonardo and Danielle’s other friends–but they’re not too shabby. Danielle shows up looking like a dream, and Prince Henry is suitably gobsmacked. And, as with any version of Cinderella, things get worse before they get better.
Ever After is romantic and fun and floaty and a good story, but it does have one big flaw: The anachronisms. Especially in the dialogue. I’ve said it before: ever since we were first treated to Monty Python and The Princess Bride, certain other films have tried to imitate the funny-lines-in-period-setting dialogue. For a while, it was trendy to mix old and new in films. Problem is, it only works if current idioms and modern-day syntax are kept to an absolute minimum, and most of the time screenwriters fail big-time at this. Like in A Knight’s Tale, for instance: “It’s called a lance. Hell-o-oo.”
Ever After has so many anachronisms, it could almost be a drinking game, if anyone is into that sort of thing (I’m not). One example is the scene when Danielle is changing so she can go get Maurice back. Her buddy, Gustave mentions that Rodmilla, Jacqueline, and Marguerite are buying a brooch, Danielle complains, “Unbelievable. She ignores the manor, hides her debt and still acts like she has money to burn.”
First of all, women in the Middle Ages didn’t say “Unbelievable,” and secondly, money wasn’t burnable back then. Meltable, but not burnable. Anyway, the phrase, “money to burn,” originated sometime in the late 1800s. Oops.
Another anachronism is Leonardo da Vinci. He’s a principal character and a welcome grandfather-figure, but he would have been dead at the time this story took place. And the Mona Lisa was painted on wood, so there’s no way Leonardo would have rolled it up and carried it on his back. Also, the real thing is smaller, whereas the one in the movie looks like it was bought at a university bookstore.
Then again, I could just be acting nitpicky. I’ve always enjoyed Ever After in spite of the historical discrepancies–it’s a fun movie with a lot of great moments, wink-wink humor, and great acting. Drew Barrymore gives a wonderful performance, which Roger Ebert said launched her adult acting career. Considering she was only twenty-three at the time, it is very impressive indeed.
Aaaand that does it for Day Three. Plenty more of the Barrymores are to be found at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Thanks, Crystal for hosting! Hope you all enjoyed reading, and see you next time!
This film is available on Amazon.