According to this version, "Cinderella" was just a demeaning nickname applied to the young Danielle (Drew Barrymore) by her cruel stepsisters. Danielle's father died shortly after marrying the evil Baronness Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston). Rodmilla takes pity on Danielle and raises her as a pathetic servant girl.
Danielle's stepsisters, Marguerite (Megan Dodds) and Jacqueline (Melanie Lynsky), are, of course, pampered little snobs. Rodmilla is grooming them for a potential match with the eligible Prince Henry (Dougray Scott). However, after a chance encounter with Danielle, Henry is smitten.
Danielle finds herself in the awkward position of playing a charade. She pretends to be of noble birth and worthy of a prince's affections. All the while, she struggles to conceal her blossoming relationship from Rodmilla.
This updated telling of the Cinderella tale actually works much better than it seems. Despite its anachronistic class attitudes, Ever After manages to create a lushly realistic backdrop for its timeless tale.
There is, however, one critical flaw in the story which Ever After never addresses. Why does the social climbing Baroness Rodmilla deign to marry Danielle's low-born father. It's a crucial question which underlies the film's themes of class inequality. However, the film shies away from ever providing a substantive answer.
Drew Barrymore delivers a fair performance as the lead. She's definately more headstrong than most previous Cinderellas. But she's also unconvincing at times, particularly during weepy scenes.
At least, she has a reliable supporting cast to lean on. Dougray Scott provides an admirable romantic interest, and Anjelica Huston is perfectly cast as the wicked stepmother.
Romantics will no doubt enjoy Ever After, easily overlooking its flaws. Others who attend will find, while not a perfect film, one which is better than they hoped.
[PG-13 - momentary strong language] (Fox)
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