"Ever After" opens with an old lady offering to tell the true story of "the little cinder girl," who was, she says, a real person, long before she was immortalized by the Brothers Grimm in the Cinderella myth: "Her name was Danielle. And this ... was her glass slipper." The movie that follows is one of surprises, not least that the old tale still has life and passion in it. I went to the screening expecting some sort of soppy children's picture and found myself in a costume romance with some of the same energy and zest as "The Mask of Zorro." And I was reminded again that Drew Barrymore can hold the screen and involve us in her characters.
The movie takes place in 16th century Europe, although it is a Europe more like a theme park than a real place, and that accounts for Danielle's remarkable ability to encounter the rich and famous--not only Prince Henry of France, but even Leonardo da Vinci, who functions as sort of a fairy godfather. It's a Europe of remarkable beauty (magnificent castles and chateaus are used as locations), in which a girl with spunk and luck has a chance even against a wicked stepmother.
Not that the stepmother is merely wicked. "Ever After" brings a human dimension to the story, which begins with Danielle living happily with her father (Jeroen Krabbe). He springs a surprise: He is to marry Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston), who will bring her daughters Jacqueline and Marguerite (Melanie Lynskey and Megan Dodds) to live with them. Soon after the marriage, the father drops from his horse, dead, and life changes abruptly for Danielle.
"To be raised by a man!" exclaims Rodmilla. "No wonder you're built for hard labor." She puts Danielle to work as the family maid--swabbing floors, cooking and doing the dishes, tending the barnyard. Meanwhile, she grooms the beautiful Jacqueline for marriage in high places.