Hi there — Emily here!
When I was 11, I had a videotape of Ever After which I must have watched fifty times over. It was a sparkly, feel-good, girl-power, romantic-comedy, fractured fairy tale. Pre-teen me found it utterly delightful.
When Ever After re-entered my life recently via my Netflix streaming queue, though, I was rather suspicious: there was just no way that this 1998 Drew Barrymore Cinderella story could live up to my rose-damask memories of it. It was extremely unlikely, I thought, that fairy-tale Renaissance France was as gorgeously whimsical and stately as I remembered it being. Luckily, a recent attempt to procrastinate on weekend homework led my re-watching it, and — to my continued delight — Ever After is a surprisingly glorious ‘90s rom com. I heartily recommend that you take some time this week to revel in the awesomeness of this clever, cheesy ‘90s movie about true love, high adventure, and the insidious evils of economic inequality.
Since I wanted to share my intense enjoyment of this film — and my ongoing development of complex and varied procrastination techniques — here are my reasons why you really must watch Ever After the next time you need to avoid productivity! (Spoilers are ahead, but it’s a seventeen-year-old rom com based on Cinderella. Chances are you’ve already seen it, or at least could guess the major story beats in advance.)
1. First off, the premise of Ever After is kind of fantastic. A royal Grande Dame summons the Brothers Grimm to meet with her because they got the Cinderella story wrong: Cinderella isn’t just the character of some fairy story, but rather was her great great grandmother, a woman called Danielle de Barbarac. Every film (with the possible exception of the eponymous Brothers Grimm) is automatically made 28% better by cameos from nineteenth-century folklorists.
2. Anyway, the Grande Dame contradicts the Brothers Grimm when they attempt to explain the nuances of the Cinderella fairy tale to her. She points out that, although the brothers have been told that the Cinderella story is a work of fiction, it is in fact a record of historical truth. This idea — that what we believe to be history isn’t necessarily all that actually happened, and that folklore records a history of women’s experiences which have been erased from the public annals of historical fact — works really nicely in conjunction with the film’s overarching feminist bent.
3. It also works in gorgeous counterpoint with one of the most fantastic moments of one of the great novels of the nineteenth-century: Jane Austen’s Persuasion. At the climax of Persuasion, our heroine Anne Elliot is arguing with a man about who tend to be truer and more faithful lovers: men or women. When the man says that literature and history provide countless examples that women are faithless and far more fickle, Anne — wonderfully — replies that that’s simply because men have had more benefit of education and literacy than have women. “I will not,” she says, “allow books to prove anything.” Austen’s wonderfully proto-feminist assertion of the erasure of women’s experiences from literate culture is echoed in this opening scene of Ever After, and we begin a wonderful story in which the Grande Dame tells the Brothers Grimm about Danielle, a servant girl who falls in love with a prince.
4. So who’s the main cast? Well we’ve got Drew Barrymore playing an Ella-of-Frell-esque fabulously feisty lady.
5. She’s a lady who throws apples at horse-thieves, puts herself in danger in order to save a servant who’s been indentured to go to the Americas, and — in proper ‘90s fashion — wears a whole lot of glittery make-up when she goes to the dance.
6. There’s also Dougray Scott, with the requisite haircut of attractive men in fantasy movies.
7. Scott’s playing Prince Henry, a crown prince of France with a surprisingly Anglicized name. Henry’s rebelling against his parents and escaping out tower windows because he wants to see the world and marry for love, whereas his parents are trying to make a politically advantageous contract with the Spanish royalty. He’s very concerned that he won’t have the chance to find his “match,” and indeed expresses worry that if everyone only has one soulmate, what if he never finds his. His anxieties about marrying for love are all too charming, especially since my anecdotal survey of ‘90s rom coms would suggest that female characters voice those concerns far more frequently than do their male counterparts.
8. He’s melodramatic and emotional and very very pretty.
9. There’s also a wonderfully charming Melanie Lynskey, only four years after her performance in Heavenly Creatures.
10. Melanie Lynskey’s character ends up going to a masquerade ball with a huge horse headdress on.
11. At the ball, she then gets into the most adorable flirtation with the prince’s captain of the guard, who is also, fortuitously enough, dressed as a horse.
12. They whinny at each other.
13. There’s really not too much to her character’s story, but it’s adorable.
14. Also, Angelica Huston plays the Baroness Rodmilla, a down-on-her-luck noble lady who marries Danielle’s merchant father shortly before he dies. Huston’s got the evil stepmother aesthetic down perfectly. And Holy Catherine de Medici does she have mad eyebrow game.
15. Basically, Danielle is a well educated, socially conscious, nouveau riche girl in sixteenth-century France who — in line with the traditional story — is forced by her stepmother to become a servant.
16. Meanwhile, Henry is a French prince who is far more enthralled with the idea of marrying for love than a Renaissance crown prince has any right to be.
17. Indeed, Henry seems to not realize that he’s not a Romantic poet. Not only does he sulk about not getting to marry for love, but we first meet him escaping from his tower bedroom in the middle of the night from a rope made of bedsheets.
18. Also, there’s a point in which he invites Danielle to the church ruins where he likes to sit and be alone by himself. He’s kind of adorably nineteenth-century, and my (not so) inner English lit fangirl thinks that he’d be good friends with Wordsworth and Keats if only fairy-tale France had time-travel capabilities.
19. Danielle catches Henry’s eye when she starts quoting Thomas More’s Utopia at him. He actually strikes up a flirtation by explaining that “anyone who can quote Thomas More is well worth the effort.”
20. Let me say that again: Danielle and Henry first start falling in love over a political satire in which there is actually a moment where two men are critiquing the enclosure movement and start talking about the possibility of sheep eating people.
21. Because nothing’s sexier than grumpy Catholics writing Latin satires.
22. Anyway, they have a charming flirtation, aided and abetted by Leonardo da Vinci in the role of fairy godmother.
23. Seriously. Leonardo da Vinci. He’s inventing, painting, and acting as a wing-man / fairy godmother.
24. Danielle and Henry fall in love, and there’s an appropriately transcendent entrance of Cinderella into the ball.
25. Although Henry seems to be experiencing that awkward moment when you realize you didn’t remember to put on a costume for your own costume party.
26. Anyway, fast-forwarding towards the end of the movie, when the masquerade ball goes south and Danielle ends up getting sold off to a creepy landowner, she rescues herself.
27. It’s awesome and kick-ass, especially since she seems to have innate sword-handling skills.
28. So when Henry rides up to try to rescue her, Dougray Scott ends up being able to give his best Julia-Roberts-in-Notting-Hill impression. Honestly. He announces that “I kneel before you not as a prince, but as a man in love.”
29. Then, the evil step-family gets its comeuppance in a way that is delightfully reminiscent of the downfall of Violet Beauregarde.
(It involves a laundry room and a huge vat of purple dye.)
30. Basically, it’s a charming feminist fairy tale movie set in the sort of Renaissance France where everyone indicates that they’re French by speaking in English accents. It’s essentially a BBC costume drama in which everyone’s just pretending to be in Renaissance France.
31. On that note, the costuming and hair departments are as stellar as they are in any good costume drama. First off, all of the women all have fantastic braids.
32. And everyone with the money for extra yards of fabric has truly spectacular sleeves.
33. Also, the film’s big set piece is a masquerade ball, and the costumes are the right balance of intensely glamorous and far too cumbersome for you to actually want to wear.
34. It’s a light-hearted feminist fantasy film in which a character manages to sound like an early modern French lady equivalent of John Oliver when she critiques those who take advantage of a wealth gap to punish the poor beyond their means. Danielle argues, “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 it to be concluded, sire, but that you first make thieves and then punish them?” She’s smart, self-assured, and absolutely delightful.