All of us know the Cinderella story. A lot of us love it too, in spite of all the criticism that came in later. I don’t disagree with the criticism. Let us all argue that women are not creatures to be rescued and that Cinderella should have stood up to her stepmother on her own, or sneaked out at the night of the party without waiting for her Godmother and the pumpkin carriage.
But there is still something alluring to read about the magic that transported her from the prison house to the palace. We all have yearned for it, aloud or in secret as much as we have for our Prince Charming (or Mr Darcy) bending his knee – with the glass slipper or without.
What we are thus seeking for is a story that reiterates the magic of Cinderella with a dose of realism, where it is courage and kindness which wins over the Prince rather than beauty and frailty and where stepmothers who abuse are punished by law and not by karma alone.
The movie ‘Ever After – a Cinderella story’ (1998) balances that. What is more, is that it roots the story in space and time, as it unfolded gently with the ‘awakening’ in Europe.
Once upon a time (16th century France, on the brink of the renaissance) lived Danielle, called Cinderella, a spunky little kid who lost her father and grew up as a servant in her own house, at the mercy of her stepmother and her stepsisters. This Cinderella is our heroine not because she does not hate her stepmother in spite of the hatred she receives, but because she remains kind and optimistic even in the given circumstances, ever finding ways to beat it.
Enter the Prince charming with a personality, thank God for that! Danielle and the Prince continue to meet each other over a series of remarkable coincidences, beginning from the incident where the Prince, attempting to flee from his kingly duties and an arranged marriage lands up in her backyard to steal her father’s horse. In the second, he finds Danielle arguing with his guards to rescue her friend who was being shipped off to slavery. Love gradually finds its way in their confrontations over Thomas Moore’s Utopia, the state of the poor in the Kingdom and conversations over books and wanderings. Through her, a passion is rekindled in his heart and a liberal bend of mind finds its direction.
While the original Cinderella builds stereotypes of how men and women should be in an ideal society, here both the Prince and Danielle are rebellious and non conforming to their given roles, and this becomes one of the flash points of their budding relationship.
Because they meet before the ball, the role of the ‘fairy Godmother’ comes much before Cinderella’s famous showdown with her stepmother. Here, however, the fairy Godmother is not a celestial being that appears only at the ultimate climax in the story, but a legend who himself set the climax in the history.
Any guesses by those who have not watched the film?
It is Leonardo Da Vinci who is the fairy Godmother, who rescues more than once both Cinderella and the Prince from falling in the oblivion of the fault lines of their social status and the obligations which come with them. He encourages Danielle to pursue her love as much as he admonishes the Prince for letting her go because men need saving as much as women do! He is dependable and kind and modest in the movie, stuff that angels in real life are made of.
Because they took the historical character of such stature, delightful references of the great man’s works are filled as anecdotes here and there. In the first instance where he meets the Prince, he asks him to retrieve his stolen painting from a band of bandits, which turns out to be Mona Lisa. “She laughs at me Sir as if she knows something I do not,” says the Prince when he beholds the portrait he took back from the bandits.
“The Lady had many secrets, I merely painted one of them”, Da Vinci promptly replies. In another instance, Danielle makes a model of a ‘flying machine’ on the sketches he did (it was one of his failed experiments, so in the movie, she succeeds in making it rather than him). Another dialogue, when a bannerman reads out that he is invited by the royal family as the artist in residence, he goes like “Michelangelo was trapped under a ceiling in Rome…I am just a second choice”.
Other historical references, like the discovery of chocolates, allusion to the explorer Charles Cartier, French Colonies, France’s love-hate relationship with Spain are also brought in. Put together, the movie is one of its kind in its twisting the fairy tale on its head and yet making it come alive in the pages of history.
Let us go to the beginning of the movie – the Grande Dame of France invites the brothers Grimm, the originators of all the fairy stories and shows them the glass slipper and tells them the story of Danielle, who is her great great grandmother. The Dame urges them to retell the story as it was, and not as it was made of – a popular version which merely celebrates royalty, as much as social hierarchy and the gender roles. In my opinion, this is rather a remark on how history is rewritten and stories are imagined to suit the existing structure of society, obviating many important and true details which would do much good if it came to us as it was!
Disney made another movie on Cinderella in 2015 and changed the narration quite a bit to suit the new, woke generation, but still, the Ever After A Cinderella story is my preferred version. After all, it is full of magic as much as it is full of possibilities, of miracles as much as courage, a feminist retelling of our favourite fairy tale!