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Ever After Review
Andy Tennant’s breathtaking film, Ever After is a blend of well researched historical content and modern romanticism. Unfortunately the latter detracts somewhat from the former, but taken as a whole, the film in itself is a masterpiece well worth watching. Tennant plays his movie as a love story that is both comic and tragic, many times both in the same scene. He has taken a brilliant cast and worked with each member so that the relationships in the film are not only merely believable but intricately layered as well.
The story follows the basic plot of Cinderella, yet with several clever twists. As the daughter of a prospering merchant, Danielle lives happily on their manor in the countryside of France. When her father returns home with his new wife – a baroness – and her two daughters, Marguerite and Jacqueline, she is thrilled because she’ll “be getting a mother and sisters, all in one day!”. Disaster strikes when Danielle’s father suffers a heart attack just as he is leaving the house on a business trip. Both his sobbing daughter and his distraught wife rush to his side, but it is Danielle he professes his love to before slipping away in death. This final act of favoritism earns Danielle the animosity of her stepmother for the rest of their lives.
From then on Danielle is treated as a servant in her own home, driven by a love for the farm and that of a need for the acceptance of her step mother. It is when an old family servant and friend is sold to the Americas that she decides to defy the sumptuary laws and dress as a countess so that she might buy back his freedom at court. This one act changes her life because, while at court, she attracts the attention of none other than Prince Henry himself who finds her, quite plainly, “fascinating”. And so begins the romance of a man who has finally found someone to unburden his heart to and a women who has found someone whom she must deceive or risk losing everything. Their love is severely tested when the step-mother publicly exposes Danielle for what she is. Yet the old maxim, “True love conquers all” holds true here and Henry and Danielle marry and live happily Ever After.
What makes Ever After much more than a fairy tale is it’s acute attention to detail, in everything from sweeping camera angles to the historic backdrop of the film. Jenny Beaven’s costuming, however, is what truly brings this lavish production to life. From the step-mother’s over bearing headdresses to Danielle’s stained and dirty work clothes the costuming enhances both the plot and the cast. Her work is historically accurate for the most part, though she does sometime make some artistic exaggerations in order to accent a certain scene or character. For instance: In the Masque scene, Danielle’s wings and glittery face make-up are quite a stretch historically speaking, but they also heighten the drama of the situation when she is confronted by her step-mother, her wings torn, and her radiant face now tear-stained.
Beaven also uses her costuming skill to bring out the character of the wearer. Danielle’s free and unlimited spirit is brilliantly displayed in her ability to be either a countess or a hired hand, all in the same day by simply changing her garments. She can run like a banshee through the woods and swim like a mermaid in river as well as accompany a prince to a monastery and engage in intelligent dialogue with him. Marguerite’s immoderate taste in clothes and life in general is exemplified in the scene in which she and her mother are searching for a brooch and are only satisfied with the largest that can be bought. “It needs to draw some attention,” her mother explains to the mystified vendor. When it does and the prince remarks on the “er, stunning” brooch, Jacqueline’s desire for acceptance like her beautiful sister comes out as she tries to stuff a rather large feather down her bodice, despite the fact that her chemise is drawn up almost to her neck.
What diminishes the film is the fact that it is made for a modern audience, and Tennant does sacrifice some accuracy for the sake of plot. For one, a prince would never marry a commoner. Not only would it be a total breech of social taboos, the new queen would have royal duties heaped upon her that she would simply not have the upbringing to know how to deal with properly. The audience can forgive this though, since it is an integral part of the story. But eyebrows are raised when Danielle and the prince are lost in the forest and she climbs up a rock face in only her underpinnings. They are raised farther still when she ascends and attacks the leader of the gypsies, still in the same state of undress. Such an act in reality would have certainly labeled her a slut if not a whore. The scene in which the stepmother and Marguerite are stripped of their titles and sent to the royal laundry is humorous and leaves the audience with a delicious sense of revenge but it too doesn’t hold up to closer examination. When mother and daughter fall into the vat of dye, the only thing hurt was their intense pride, while if it had been a real vat, they would have been scalded by the hot liquid. Despite these slight compromises, the film remains true to the time in which it is set. (And yes, tennis was extremely popular in sixteenth century France.)
Ever After is a multi-layered visual as well as intellectual treat for all ages, and can be enjoyed time and time again. Not only does it present a fresh version of a classic tale, but it also lets us into the very lives of people from a time and place we’ll never be able to visit in person. As the narrator of the love story concludes, “And Cinderella and her prince lived happily ever after. But my point, gentlemen, is that they lived.”