This Friday Natasha Oakley brings you a movie you can genuinely enjoy with your daughter. How rare is that?
Once upon a time ....
In this version of Cinderella our heroine, played by Drew Barrymore, can ride a horse, milk a cow, sword fight as well as any man, quote 'Utopia' and certainly doesn't need a tinsel clad fairy godmother. No, she has Leonardo Da Vinci.
But this isn't Cinderella, the fairy story. This is the 'true' story. It's the story of Danielle de Barbarac.
'Ever After' is set in Renaissance France and it all begins pretty much as you'd expect. Danielle's adored father remarries and, shortly after bringing his new wife and her two daughters to his rural manor, he dies of a heart attack.
By the time Danielle is eighteen her step-mother, the Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent (Anjelica Huston) has squandered so much money they're in dire straights and Danielle is a servant. That's the start of it really. The Baroness has decided to make economies and she sells Maurice, an aged retainer, regardless of the fact he's married to another servant on the de Barbarac estate.
Now, Danielle, our feisty heroine, has already had a chance meeting with our hero Henry, the Prince of France (Dougray Scott). In fact, he was running away from the prospect of an arranged marriage with the Princess of Spain and stole a horse. (He doesn't get too far because he happens across Leonardo da Vinci and helps rescue the Mona Lisa - but that that's another thread entirely.) Danielle is bribed to silence and she decides to use the money to buy Maurice's freedom.
And that's fraught with difficulty because the penalty for impersonating a courtier is five days in the stocks. Naturally that doesn't deter Danielle who dons her late mother's dress and sets off ... only to meet Prince Henry, who doesn't quite recognise her.
Henry: [as Danielle rushes away] Have we met?
Danielle: I do not believe so, Your Highness.
Henry: I could have sworn I knew every courtier in the providence.
Danielle: Well, I'm visiting a cousin.
Danielle: My cousin.
Henry: Yes, you said that. Which one?
Danielle: Th-the only one I have, sire.
By this time Prince Henry is a man with a mission. He's been given five days to find a bride of his own choosing and he's charmed by Danielle in this new guise. Not so surprising since she doesn't think so very much of him.
Henry: Am I to understand that you find me... arrogant?
Danielle: Well, you gave one man back his life but did you even glance at the others?
[Danielle tries to get away while Henry is distracted by the criminals' wagon]
Henry: Please, I beg of you. A name. Any name.
Danielle: I fear that the only name I can leave you with is Comtesse Nicole de Lancret.
That's her late mother's name - and the deception has begun.
I will freely admit that when I sat down to watch this movie my hopes weren't particularly high. My daughter is 13 and we watch lots of movies together (I mean the poor girl has so many brothers what's a mother to do????), but I can name stacks I've not really enjoyed. This one managed to capture us both.
Okay, I am a little distracted when they pull the Mona Lisa out of a tube and I happen to know it was painted on a poplar wood panel. I also know Prince Henry II of France married Catherine de'Medici. That's the trouble with using real people.
And I really didn't like Danielle's ball dress.
I mean what were they thinking with those wings? Actually, I know but I still think it's silly. Such a difficult look to pull of, don't you think?
But that rather misses the point. This is fun. It's full of lines I wish I'd written.
Henry: I feel as if my skin is the only thing keeping me from going everywhere at once.
Queen Marie: Choose wisely, Henry. Divorce is only something they do in England.
Danielle: Signore, my name is Danielle de Barbarac, and I am but a servant.
Leonardo da Vinci: Yes, and I'm the bastard son of a peasant. What does that have to do with anything?
And it feels familiar. It has all the lovely warm associations of the 'Cinderella' stories of my childhood while still being different enough to keep it fresh. And there are some gritty moments too as Danielle is whipped by the Baroness and her father's book burned.
The two 'ugly' sisters are still there - but they're not two dimensional characters.
Marguerite (Megan Dodds) is the elder and her mother's favourite. She beautiful to look at but as cruel as the Baroness.
Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey) is much nicer. She does what she can for Danielle but can't quite stand up to her mother. You really cheer for her at the end.
All told, this is just a nice way to spend a couple of hours. And, isn't it lovely to know the real story of Cinderella! Certainly the Brothers Grimm are put in their place!!
Grand Dame: My great-great-grandmother's portrait hung in the University up until the Revolution. By then, the truth of their romance had been reduced to a simple fairy tale. And while Cinderella and her Prince *did* live happily ever after, the point, gentlemen, is that they *lived*.
As to it's Pink Heart Fuzzy rating .... Well, that's difficult. I think I'm going to give it an 8 out of 10 - because I was very distracted by Danielle's hair when Henry proposes (continuity error - go see). On the other hand, if you asked my daughter she'd give it a straight 10 out of 10.
[outside Pierre Le Pieu's castle - he's the baddie]
Danielle: What are you doing here?
Henry: [sheepishly] I uh... I came to... rescue you.
Danielle: Rescue me? A commoner?
[starts to walk away]
Henry: [going after her] Actually, I came to beg your forgiveness. I offered you the world and at the first test of honor, I betrayed your trust. Please, Danielle...
Danielle: [stops, turns around] Say it again.
Henry: I'm sorry.
Danielle: The part where you said my name.
Henry: [smiling] Danielle.
Oh I don't know, that was quite lovely. Shall we split the difference and give it a Pink Heart Fuzzy rating of 9 out of 10?
This July saw the start of a brand-new series in the Presents line - The Royal House of Niroli.
"The Mediterranean island of Niroli has prospered for centuries under the Fierezza men. But now, as the King’s health declines, and his 2 sons have been tragically killed, the crown is in jeopardy. Who will rule? "
Natasha's book, 'The Tycoon's Princess Bride', is available NOW and is a Romantic Times Magazine Top Pick. Click here for the full review.