The year was 1998.
The radio airwaves were dominated by Sixpence None The Richer, Natalie Imbruglia, and The Goo Goo Dolls.
I was a crazy awkward eighth grader, and I’d just seen a movie that both caused my feminist awakening and inspired my first novel, Angelica’s Wings (which was feminist as hell, I’m proud to say!)
That movie, my friends, was Ever After.
I wish I could convey to you just how important this movie is to me. I know it off by heart–I have probably watched it once a year since 1998. You do the math, because I don’t want to, and I’m allergic to numbers.
Needless to say, I have more thoughts about this movie than Leonardo da Vinci has hilarious one-liners. More feelings than times Rodmilla de Ghent throws Danielle serious shade. Most of my T&Fs are nonverbal squealing and swooning, but I’ll do my best to articulate them like a rational human being. Fingers crossed.
I watched Ever After again recently because:
a) I had the rare gift of a free afternoon (#IntrovertsDream), and Little Women somehow disappeared from Netflix, and it was blizzarding (#Snowvember), and
b) I just saw the trailer for the live-action Cinderella movie and was like, “Meh. It looks okay, but it basically just looks like a live-action version of the Disney movie with no fresh perspective … Now, Ever After was a cool interpretation of the fairytale because 16th century France! And Leonardo da Vinci as the ‘fairy godmother!’ And feminism! And Drew Barrymore being her amazing self!”
So without further ado, I give you my favourite movie of all time.
1. I wanted to live in 16th century France because of the clothes
Guys, this movie is a costume drama-lover’s heaven. I mean, just look at this:
The way the light makes the velvet sleeves shine in the sun, the gold pattern, the braid, the pearl-studded hairnet … me and my thirteen year-old self are majorly geeking out right now. I definitely started putting little braids in my hair after watching this movie because I wanted to be Danielle de Barbarac.
I wanted to wear dresses like this and tell off princes and rescue servants. I wanted to be able to say things like “If you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners corrupted from infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded, sire, but that you first make thieves and then punish them?”
(I may or may not have memorized that speech).
But most of all, this:
2. Haters gonna hate; readers gonna read
Let’s not skip over the fact that Danielle is a voracious reader (girl after my own heart). Remember how enraptured she is when Henry takes her to the monastery library? Mad props to Hollywood for making reading look sexy (it is, and don’t you forget it, future generations!)
When I was growing up, there was this girl who lived on my street temporarily who was everything I was not: pretty, popular, allowed to hang out with the boys who skateboarded on the road. One day, circa 1998-99, my awkward overalled self was walking home from the library, arms full of books. She was walking with her little brother and when our paths crossed, I heard her snicker and say, “Nerd!”
My cheeks flamed in humiliation, but then I remembered my favourite fairytale heroines, Belle and Danielle de Barbarac and felt affirmed in my love of reading.
Can you imagine if I had given up on reading for pleasure because of some mean girl from ’98? Then I wouldn’t have gone on to study literature at the university level, I wouldn’t have met my BFF Meg, and there would be no T&F.
It is admirable how Danielle doesn’t stop reading. Her father must have taught her to read and she never stopped, even though a servant in the 16th century probably wouldn’t have been literate. And reading at a high level, too, in a way that influences her ideals and informs her pre-socialist(?) views on the world.
“Some people read because they cannot think for themselves” – Rodmilla.
3. Behind the Shade
I love how this film gives us a tiny glimpse into why the villain is bad. She’s already a cold, snobbish, unlikeable person, but the reason she resents Danielle and treats her so poorly is because as her new husband is dying, he turns to his daughter and tells Danielle he loves her, not her. Kind of understandable, if you think about it. Danielle was her constant reminder that her husband didn’t love her as much as he loved his daughter which doesn’t excuse her behaviour, but would nonetheless sting.
She later tells Danielle that her mother was hard on her also, making her wash her face 20 times a day, convinced it wasn’t clean enough (OCD?), and that she barely knew Danielle’s father when she married him.
Anjelica Huston plays this role so perfectly, allowing just a flicker of softness and humanity to cross Rodmilla’s features when she tells Danielle how much she looks like her father, only to cover it up by returning to her cold demeanour and saying, “Yes, well, your features are so … masculine.”
4. Where have you gone, Dougray Scott?
Remember him? The prince who stole our hearts in 1998 and made us giggle over his tight pants?
Where has he been?
IMDb tells us that he’s been in nothing spectacular since 1998, other than playing Arthur Miller in My Week with Marilyn (2011). And maybe that’s okay, because he will always be Prince Henry in my heart.
My thirteen year-old self was all like:
He’s so handsome and dreamy and a prince! OMG! And his hair is so flawy and his eyes are so broody and his jaw is chiseled! And my friends and I used to say to each other, “Why do you have to be so wonderful?” And that part when she says, “It is not fair, sire. You have found my weakness [BOOKS FTW!] but I have yet to find yours,” and his face when he replies, “But I should think it was quite obvious” because it’s HER! EEEEEEEEEK! SWOON! IT’S SO ROMANTIC I COULD DIEEEE!!!11!!1!
And my present-day self is all like:
Now this is a love story! Rather than simply falling in love with her because she’s pretty (which is sadly the premise of too many movies), he falls in love with her because of her passion and her convictions and because she challenges him to see beyond his “gilded cage” and empathize with the serfs and peasants (Shhhh she is one! #SECRET)!
And then there’s the millions and millions of love stories where the girl is pretty and headstrong and they hate each other at first because they’re from different walks of life or something, but they have great chemistry and all of a sudden they look at each other all scared and then start making out like crazy (and honestly, there are way too many of these love stories to name. I think Jane Austen was the original creator of that trope).
SIDEBAR: DOES THIS HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE? Do couples ever start out hating each other passionately and then one day they’re all like, OMG! All of my hatred was just passionate love all along! I love you and want to have your babies!??
But Ever After spins that trope on its head. There’s the lively banter at first (“Am I to understand that you find me … arrogant?”) but you can see he’s intrigued by her mind. Yup, that’s right. Her mind.
This ain’t one of those love stories where the girl has a makeover and that’s when the guy falls in love and realizes his true feelings (LAME). Even when she’s swimming in her servant’s garb (my friends and I used to recreate the scene where Leonardo da Vinci appears and says, “Looks like rain!”), climbing rocks in her underthings, and covered in sweat and dirt in the last scene, he loves her just as much as when she’s dressed up like an angel at the masque, because of her beautiful mind.
Now that, boys and girls, is real love. Write that on a post-it note and remind yourself of that every time you feel you need to look hot to make someone love you.
Which brings me to my next point:
5. Danielle de Barbarac, the heroine every girl needs
Why is Danielle de Barbarac such a great heroine? Let me count the ways:
She’s intelligent. She reads. She cares deeply about the servants who raised her. She’s passionate and stands by her convictions, even when confronted by freaking royalty! She’s kind and sweet, and doesn’t let her stepmother’s mistreatment make her bitter. She is scrappy and can hold her own against witchy stepsisters, charming princes, thieving gypsies, and creepy landowners . She’s sensitive and not afraid to show her emotions. She’ll speak her mind when necessary. She’ll risk everything to do the right thing. She not only saves Henry (from the gypsies whom she still respects, from his life as a privileged royal toff), but she also saves herself.
That’s what I love about the modern, postfeminist ending. Henry comes storming to Pierre le Pieu’s to “rescue her,” when she’s already saved herself! And she’s all dirty and sweaty and gross and he’s like, “I love you and want to marry you” and puts the glass slipper over her dirty sock and they whirl around and kiss and cry.
And yes, they do live “happily ever after” as the fairytale goes, but the point, gentleman, is that they lived.
My rating: *****