“Ever After” (1998) is a romantic tale of “Cinderella” fairy tale by Charles Perrault, a French author. The film stars Drew Barrymore as Danielle, a feisty and headstrong interpretation of Cinderella, with Dougray Scott as her love Prince Henry and Anjelica Huston as her stepmother, the esteemed Baroness. Rodmilla of Ghent.
Directed by Andy Tennant, the film is set in the French countryside with a magnificent castle essential to any fairy tale, the Château de Hautefort, located in the Dordogne region of France. Although the story of “Cinderella” is fictional, this film tries to create a sense of realism by presenting the familiar tropes and characters in a historical perspective. The magic is replaced by the ingenuity and kindness of those around Danielle, including the famous painter and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, played by Patrick Godfrey.
The costumes and sets reflect the 16th century setting of the French Renaissance, emphasizing the distinction of social classes. The splendor of the monarchy is showcased in the elaborate dresses worn by upper-class characters such as Queen Mary, played by Judy Parfitt, and the Baroness.
Throughout the film, Danielle proves that she is more than just the handmaiden her in-laws forced her to be. When Maurice, a beloved servant and family member, is sold to the king to pay off the baroness’ debts, Danielle disguises herself to bargain for her return. After being loudly reprimanded by the slave driver, none other than Prince Henry comes to her defense and scolds the man on how to treat a “lady of the court” according to her dress.
Yet Danielle needs no help defending herself and delivers a powerful speech to the prince about the nature of thieves, quoting from the book ‘Utopia’ by Thomas More to justify the redemption of his servant. The prince is speechless, and after the release he follows her until she has no choice but to give her mother’s name as the courtier character she claims to be. This sets off an entertaining dynamic between Barrymore and Scott with a witty back-and-forth that develops their romantic relationship.
Another instance in the film is when Danielle, in the guise of Countess Nicole De Lancret, is on a social outing with Prince Henry when the pair are ambushed by travellers. Danielle, who is in her underwear after climbing a tree to find the best way to the castle, jumps straight into the fight to defend the Prince. When she demands that they provide her with something to bring back if she cannot return with the Prince, the leader of the travelers states that she can have whatever she is capable of carrying.
After Danielle swears him to this promise, instead of getting his dress back, she takes the prince away in a firefighter outfit and begins to walk away. Here, Danielle finally saved his life and made peace with the Travelers, who admired his cunning and provided the two with the means to travel safely.
What makes Barrymore’s take on the Cinderella character so unique is her assertive attitude and bold personality, compared to the original story involving fairy godmothers and pumpkin carriages.
Danielle and the hard work she puts into maintaining the mansion is only for the preservation of her family home, not for the satisfaction of the Baroness. She is true to herself with the prince and inspires him to be proud of his position as the future king. Danielle truly embodies feminist values of empowerment, bringing new depth to the character as well as the original fairy tale.