Cinderella tale enchants again Review: Retelling of the fairy tale proves magical, beguiling, bewitching.

July 31, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Want to know the best thing about fairy tales? Even without the magic, they're magical.

At least they are when handled with the deft touch and lightness of spirit director Andy Tennant displays in "Ever After," a re-telling of the Cinderella tale that features Drew Barrymore at her most beguiling, Anjelica Huston at her most bedeviling and Leonardo da Vinci -- Leonardo da Vinci? -- at his most bewitching.

Told in flashback (with legendary French actress Jeanne Moreau handling the introduction), "Ever After" is the tale of Danielle (Barrymore), a sprited young thing who, after the death of her beloved father, has little choice but to live with her uncaring stepmother, Rodmilla (Huston), and two stepsisters. With an intelligence fostered by her father, an independence forced on her by her stepmother and an enlightened attitude owed to repeated readings of Thomas More's "Utopia," Danielle grows into one of the most forward thinkers in 16th-century France.

Which makes her just the match for Crown Prince Henry (Dougray Scott), whom she meets after he steals one of the family horses while trying to escape the restrictive confines of the royal castle. Through a series of machinations and lucky breaks, Danielle convinces the prince that she's a member of the aristocracy (she isn't, having been relegated to working as a field hand for her stepmother).

The two fall in love -- Prince Henry finds her ideas about human dignity (even in peasants and Gypsies!) quaint and mischievously appealing -- and they seem destined for happiness. Except that Danielle can't quite bring herself to tell Henry the truth, and Rodmilla is obsessed with seeing one of her own daughters become queen. If that means flogging Danielle and keeping her away from the big costume ball where the prince plans to announce his engagement well, what else is a cruel stepmother to do?

Since this is a fairy tale, there's plenty of preposterousness, beginning with the notion that everyone -- outside of Rodmilla and her spoiled-brat daughter, Marguerite (Megan Dodds) -- is so darned good-hearted. But seeing a bunch of actors having a good time, combined with a breezy and clever script from Susannah Grant, Rick Parks and director Tennant, keeps such concerns at bay.

Barrymore, who's played more than her share of bad girls on-screen, is a delight here (although one wonders why she's adopted a British accent for a film set in France). Her Danielle, all tomboy attitude masked by the most winsome of smiles, is a match for the heart of any prince. And Huston proves an ice queen nonpareil; her Rodmilla is cruel, but not evil -- a difference that makes her all too human and even more frightening.

And where does Leonardo come in? Hey, who better to play the part of the fairy godmother than a twinkly-eyed painter who, during his spare time, invents shoes that allow the wearer to walk on water? But rather than magic, it's reason and a little cajoling Da Vinci uses to make things happen. British actor Patrick Godfrey may not wield a wand, but he's got something even better; not since Edmund Gwenn in "Miracle on 34th Street" has a guy with a beard proven so irresistible.

'Ever After'

Starring Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston and Dougray Scott

Directed by Andy Tennant

Released by 20th Century Fox

Rated PG-13 (language)

Running time: 121 minutes

Sun score: *** 1/2

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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