Wednesday, July 29, 1998


Ever After


There's a lesson in Ever After  that should not go unheeded: if you want to get the attention of royalty, bean them with an apple.

It is this course of action in this latest rendition of Cinderella that sets Drew Barrymore's character Danielle on a romantic collision course with Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) early in the film, and her aim is as on target as her performance when she attempts to prevent the Prince from stealing one of the horses from her father's stable.

Indeed, if there are any doubts to Miss Barrymore's capability to carry a motion picture on her own, Ever After  dispels them. She simply shines as Danielle, the spirited, free-thinking feminist daughter of a late 16 th century baron who attracts Prince Henry through her challenging independence rather than her bloodline.

Barrymore never falters in a role that requires a wide range of emotion -- from joy and elation to anger and humility -- and offers the charismatic eloquence of a Hollywood veteran.

More impressively, her dignified performance holds its own against a sensational Anjelica Huston, Danielle's snippety, scheming stepmother Rodmilla who insinuates a frigid heart with a barely detectable glance of disdain or an indiscriminate curl of the lip.

Huston's Rodmilla is a joy to watch as her veneer slowly shifts from anguished widow to amoral witch, the seething look on her face during the film's final moments completing the startling transformation.

Dougray Scott (Deep Impact ) also weighs in with a royal performance as the smitten Prince Henry. At home, the Prince Of France is restless and rebellious, mortified at the prospect of an arranged marriage with a Spanish princess whom he has never set eyes on.

It is when he attempts to escape from the castle that he inadvertently runs into Danielle in the field of her father's estate. Orphaned just a day after Dad brings home new wife Rodmilla and her two privileged daughters, the beautiful but snooty Marguerite (Megan Dodds) and the less favored second fiddle Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey), Danielle has been relegated to menial labor.

It's a task Danielle seems to relish, doting on Rodmilla's whims but bonding instead with the servants. She is out gathering apples when she whacks Prince Henry, and quickly realizes her gaffe once she spots the royal crest. Embarrassed by his own horse thievery, Henry empties a purse of gold that allows Danielle to buy back one of the servants forfeited to pay Rodmilla's increasing debtload.

To do so, Danielle must pose as a courtier. It is in this guise that she runs into the Prince again, successfully quotes Thomas More as an argument to free the serf, and intrigues him. Fearful of her true identity she fabricates a new one and disappears when the Prince's attention is diverted. So the cat-and-mouse courtship begins.

It is to the credit of director Andy Tennant -- whose previous claims to fame include the irritating Olsen twins feature It Takes Two  and the so-so Fools Rush In -- that he adds a modern twist.

Prince Henry is mystified by this resolute, educated woman who challenges his preconceptions, and his look of bewilderment as she saves him from a band of gypsies is almost worth the price of admission.

Adding Italian inventor Leonardo Da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey) as Prince Henry's mentor is also an enterprising touch.

Tennant is a sublime architect, unraveling the romance slowly and patiently as the characters evolve before your eyes, and never letting the story lag.

The film is helped by an excellent script courtesy of Susannah Grant (Pocahontas ) and director Andy Tennant & Rick Parks ( Fools Rush In ), cinematographer Andrew Dunn's stunning expertise that enlivens all the colors present in the lush, picturesque setting of the France's Dordogne region, as well as the undeniable passion of the entire cast.

It also helps you glaze over some of the minor enigmas posed by the film: Was the game rock-scissors-paper really  around in the 16 th century? Why does George Fenton's romantic score include orchestras and no madrigals? And if this is France, why is everyone speaking in an English accent?

No matter. If you love period romances and fairy tales, don't miss Ever After .

It's a ball.




A 20th Century Fox release. Directed by Andy Tennant. Opens Friday, July 31.





THANKS: Beth Rimmels, Philip Bast

© 1998, 1999 Nick Krewen


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