Release date: July 31, 1998 Director: Andy Tennant
Ever After follows the story of Danielle (Drew Barrymore), a beautiful, kind-hearted woman who descends from favored daughter to humble servant when she witnesses her father’s tragic demise as a child, and then rises from the ashes of oppression in a stunning twist of fate, to win the heart of the crowned prince of France and liberate herself from the subjugation of her evil stepmother, Rodmilla de Ghent (Anjelica Huston). What makes this particular version of the Cinderella story stand out from its predecessors is that, while the film begins in a “Once upon a time” fashion, it unfolds as a historical account of the Cinderella story with a feminist twist.
Danielle de Barbarac defines what a strong, feminist character ought to be. As she grows into womanhood under the harsh rule of her stepmother, she acts the part of a servant, but she has an inner strength and passion that sets her apart from others of her station. When she first encounters Prince Henry (Dougray Scott), instead of withering in the shadow of his power, she boldly confronts him with her idealistic philosophies and challenges him to change his own methods. After their initial encounter, Danielle must protect the truth of her identity by maintaining the illusion that she is a courtier, and this, along with Danielle’s growing love for Henry, strengthens Danielle’s resolve to break the shackles which bind her to her tyrannical stepmother’s grasp and become a true princess. The irony of the relationship between Danielle and Prince Henry is that when the prince is in trouble, it is Danielle who saves the prince. When Danielle is sold into bondage to another man, instead of waiting for Henry to rescue her, she liberates herself from bondage and finally wins Henry’s heart.
The interesting twist that Ever After uses in illustrating the classic Fairy Godmother may be realized in the classic Renaissance painter, Leonardo Da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey), taking up the role as the idyllic Fairy Godfather to both Danielle and Prince Henry. In Danielle’s case, Da Vinci liberates her from her stepmother’s house and gives her the courage to face Henry with the truth about her identity. He also acts as a proxy for Danielle, after she flees from Henry when he learns of her true identity and defends her before the angry prince, allowing Henry to finally recognize Danielle’s true worth. In Henry’s case, Da Vinci acts as an advisor or a surrogate father figure, providing Henry with gentle instruction about women, life, and love.
The element of conniving manipulation and insatiable thirst for power, which is personified in the role of Danielle’s stepmother, Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent, and her stepsister, the spoiled and selfish Marguerite, gives the audience a deeper and more complex interpretation of the villainess than from Disney’s Cinderella.
I have always had a deep love of fairy tales, and when I watched Ever After, this remarkable movie fulfilled all of my expectations as a fairy tale, while providing me a glimpse into a rather unique interpretation of one of my favorite childhood stories. The casting choices are perfect, with each actor breathing life into modern versions of beloved fairy tale characters. The stunning backdrop of Renaissance France and the solid storytelling make Ever After a movie that is truly worth your time to watch.