Once upon a time, Drew Barrymore was a burnt-out drug addict. But that was when she was 14. Now she's back on track and, on the evidence of Ever After, she's a dead ringer for that little princess we fell for all those years ago in ET.
Ever After begins with the Brothers Grimm being hauled over the coals by the French Grande Dame (Moreau) for their inaccurate account of the "cinder girl". The big lady then proceeds to set the record straight. The stepsisters were not ugly (although one was a bit plump), and the stepmother wasn't exactly wicked, just a snob who never liked her stepdaughter. Cinderella, meanwhile, did have a nice frock with glass slippers but she preferred her working clothes. Oh, and the fairy godmother was Leonardo Da Vinci.
Surprisingly, despite the Grande Dame's protestations, Ever After is not a radical reading of one of the most popular stories of all time. The fairy-tale elements have been diluted, but this is still not exactly a social drama. Crucially, at the centre of this version is a satisfyingly modern heroine. Intelligent and independent, it's Danielle who dazzles the dispassionate Prince, rather than the other way round.
On one occasion, Danielle fights free of the clutches of her slimy suitor Pierre Le Pieu (Richard O'Brien) only to bump into Prince Henry on the way out. When she asks him what he's doing there, the red-faced Royal mumbles: ""Erm, I came to rescue you actually.""
When a movie borrows its title from the over-used "happily ever after", it obviously places a statute of limitations on dramatic tension. But the same could be said of countless romantic comedies and if Ever After contains all the suspense of, say, Titanic, then at least it pays attention to details. Shot on location in the French Dordogne, director Tennant (Fools Rush In, It Takes Two) creates a sumptuous visual palette without shying away from the dirty cinders which gave the lead her name.
More importantly, the script is sharp, the casting spot on: Huston especially is enjoyable as the acid-tongued step-mother. But this is Barrymore's show, and she carries it effortlessly. Rugged yet exquisite, her Danielle is every inch the latter-day princess.
Her natural audience is those young girls who still dream of Prince Charming, although the fact that Ever After has enough wit and verve to keep adults happy only confirms its status as an expertly executed family film.
Better conceived and better executed than any of this summer's more obvious blockbusters, Ever After deserves to find an audience, because this inventive, magical, thoroughly modern fairytale is the perfect family film - Cinderella with a knowing '90s wink.
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