‘Ever After’ shines as a feminist fairytale

By Marilyn MacLaren, Contributing Writer

“Ever After” (1998) is a romantic retelling of the “Cinderella” fairytale by Charles Perrault, a French author. The film stars Drew Barrymore as Danielle, a feisty, headstrong interpretation of Cinderella, with Dougray Scott as her love interest, Prince Henry, and Anjelica Huston as her stepmother, the esteemed Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent. 

Directed by Andy Tennant, the film takes place in the French countryside with a magnificent castle essential to any fairytale, the Château de Hautefort, found in the Dordogne region of France. Although the story of “Cinderella” is fictional, this film attempts to create a sense of realism by presenting the familiar tropes and characters from a historical perspective. 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 scenery reflect the 16th century setting of Renaissance France, with a focus on the distinction of social classes. The splendor of the monarchy is highlighted in the elaborate gowns worn by upper-class characters such as Queen Marie, played by Judy Parfitt, and the Baroness. 

Throughout the film, Danielle proves she is more than just the servant girl her stepfamily has forced her to be. When Maurice, a beloved servant and member of the family, is sold to the king to pay off the debts of the Baroness, Danielle goes in disguise to bargain for his return. After she is loudly told off 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 does not need any assistance in standing up for herself and delivers a powerful speech to the Prince about the nature of thieves, quoting the book “Utopia” by Thomas More to justify buying back her 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 is pretending to be. This sparks an entertaining dynamic between Barrymore and Scott with a witty back-and-forth banter that develops their romantic relationship. 

Another instance in the film is when Danielle, under the guise of Comtesse Nicole De Lancret, is on a social outing with Prince Henry when the pair are ambushed by travelers. Danielle, who is in her undergarments after climbing a tree to find the best way to the castle, jumps right into the fight to defend the Prince. When she demands that they must provide her with something to take back if she cannot return with the Prince, the leader of the travelers declares she can have whatever she is able to carry.

After Danielle makes him swear to that promise, instead of retrieving her dress, she takes the Prince in a fireman’s carry and begins to walk away. Here, Danielle ultimately saved his life and made peace with the travelers, who admire her cunning and provide the two with the means to travel safely back. 

What makes Barrymore’s interpretation of 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 the upkeep of the manor is solely for preserving her family home, not for the satisfaction of the Baroness. She is true to herself with the Prince and inspires him to take pride in his position as future King. Danielle truly embodies the feminist values of empowerment, bringing a new depth to the character as well as the original fairytale. 

 

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