A Renaissance Cinderella

NOV / DEC 2015: BY RACHEL KOVACINY

everafter

The summer before I left for college, my three friends and I went to see Ever After, the last movie we ever saw together in a theater. After that summer, we were never all four together again. Life took us our separate ways, and I’ve lost all contact with one of those girlhood friends, though I see the other two once or twice a year . But at the very end of July, 1998, we were still friends, four girls who had yet to fall in love with anyone, who enjoyed fairy tales, who wanted to wear Drew Barrymore’s butterfly dress and lose ourselves in a sparkling whirl of imagination.

It was a rare occurrence, all four of us loving the same movie, but Ever After had characters and themes we could all appreciate.

It’s 2015 now. I’ve been married for over a decade; I have three children; I’m living my own happily-ever-after. And I still love this movie. However, my reasons for loving it have changed a bit over the years. Initially, I loved getting lost in the triumphant story of how a patient, hard-working, intelligent girl is rewarded with love and honor. It’s what I love about every retelling of the Cinderella story, and I do still like it for those reasons. Now, however, I’m also drawn to Ever After for the creative way it goes about spinning the familiar tale in new ways.

Having spent many years studying how to effectively tell a story, I am fascinated by the way it still manages to be recognizable as the Cinderella story despite changing the time period, setting, character details, and so on. By setting Ever After solidly in Renaissance France, the filmmakers are able to keep many of the physical trappings of a fairy tale: beautiful dresses, royalty, coaches and horses and country estates. But they can also update the sensibilities of the characters. An educated, intelligent, argumentative, outspoken woman like Danielle (Drew Barrymore) would feel out of place in the more medieval setting that typical fairy tales use. But in the Renaissance, when everything in the known world was changing, when everyone was fascinated with knowledge and learning — such a woman fits quite nicely there.

And then there’s Prince Henry (Dougray Scott). He’s also intelligent, an emerging intellectual, and initially more interested in discussing abstract concepts of love than in finding a wife. Still charming, but not exactly the easily-enamored type who will fall in love with a stranger the minute she steps into the ballroom in a pretty dress. Which leads to one of the things I like best about Ever After: no love at first sight.

Call me unromantic, or boring, or overly modern, but I am not a fan of the idea of “love at first sight.” Attraction at first sight? Sure. Lust at first sight? Sure. But love? Nope. Love is deeper than just emotions and pheromones. Those can bring together two people who then fall in real love, absolutely. Which is what happens here. The prince encounters a pretty woman embroiled in a vehement argument. He’s attracted to her, yes. But more than that, he’s interested in her. She’s unusual, spouting philosophy and economics instead of twittering about feelings and fashion. And so he pursues her not because he is already in love with her, but because he wants to understand her, to get to know her. And by doing those two things, he then begins to fall in love with her.

Danielle is attracted to Prince Henry physically as well, but she likes him more because he takes her seriously than because she appreciates his appearance or rank. She isn’t out to snag a prince, or out to have a good time at a fancy party — she wants to get to know and understand him too. There’s just that one pesky problem of her being a common servant and him being a prince.

Who better to solve such a problem than the ultimate Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey). Having such a famous artist, inventor, and intellectual in a fairy tale might seem incongruous at first, but it works beautifully here. In fact, he’s what ties the updated characters and setting together with the traditional story so well. He embodies all the new, marvelous ideas and pursuits of the Renaissance, and can bring art, science, and philosophy very naturally into the story. Without him, such topics might seem like convenient plot devices, not organic parts of the world, but with Leonardo da Vinci on hand, they make complete sense in the story. And with his help, Danielle and Prince Henry can find their happily-ever-after as well.

I might not have a great desire to wear body glitter and fairy wings anymore, but my desire for a good story well told has not diminished. I know I’ll be enjoying and learning from Ever After for years to come. ♥

FUN FACT: This story is set in an “alternate history” of the period. Utopia was published in 1516. Leonardo Da Vinci died in 1519.  King Francis’ son Henry (born in 1519) married Catherine de’Medici. Charles, the Spanish monarch, was in his 20’s and unmarried. And the queen says “divorce is only something they do in England” a full decade ahead of Henry VIII’s divorce.

novdec2015

When she’s not writing, Rachel Kovaciny passes the time by reading, baking, watching movies, crocheting, blogging, and homeschooling her three children. Her least favorite activities are house-cleaning and wearing shoes, and she’s been known to go to great lengths to avoid both. She blogs about books, and also has a personal blog that talks about movies and other important things.

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