July 31 marked the 20th anniversary of Ever After: A Cinderella Story this year and we couldn’t be more thankful for the adaptation. Starring Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott, Ever After walks the line of historical fiction, setting the tale in Renaissance-era France with actual historical figures in place of the pomp and fantastical elements we’ve all grown accustomed to.
Several of these changes include our Prince Henry (Dougray) being betrothed to the royal of a neighboring country, and our leading lady actually meeting the prince before the ball – and even carrying on a secret romance before he eventually seeks her out for her hand (well, foot) in marriage.
One of the most underrated changes that make this version of Cinderella differ, however, is that our leading lady isn’t the only member of the household who suffers abuse at the hands of the wicked stepmother.
At the beginning of the film, we meet Danielle De Barbarac (Barrymore), the daughter of a merchant who has just met her new step-mother, Baroness Rodmilla De Ghent (Anjelica Huston), and her two stepsisters, Marguerite (Megan Dodds) and Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey). As the film progresses, we hit the usual Cinderella markers: Danielle is relegated to being a house servant who sleeps at the fireplace, thus getting the moniker “Cinder-Ella.” Just as Danielle is insulted, though, stepsister Jacqueline is given a few insults as well.
“Do not speak unless you can improve the silence,” she’s told as she recites how a lady should speak in the midst of sister Marguerite’s tantrum. It’s abundantly clear Marguerite is the favorite of her mother’s two daughters and it’s made more apparent moments later when the three transplants are shopping and we see Rodmilla seeking a brooch to buy for Marguerite while Jacqueline stands off to the side having a snack. This is repeated later in the film when Marguerite is presented with a beautiful peacock ensemble for the ball, while Jacqueline is given a horse head and even told she should pull the carriage if she could get them there any faster.
Unlike most Cinderella retellings, Rodmilla does not take advantage of having two (technically three) “horses in the race” so to speak and reduces her odds by focusing solely on one daughter. It is for and with Marguerite that she conspires to win favor with the royal family in an attempt to advance their status.
It’s not expressly discussed why Rodmilla chooses one over the other — even telling Jacqueline what Marguerite does is for “all” of them — but she does hone in on two qualities about Jacqueline she doesn’t like: her body, and her pleasantries towards Danielle.
In several scenes, Rodmilla makes sure to body shame Jacqueline, including a moment where the former tells the latter she will need a tighter dress despite the current dress being tight enough as it is: “If one cannot breathe, one cannot eat.” She also impedes Jacqueline from tasting chocolate the Prince offers the family during a stroll with them.
Body shaming aside, it seems Rodmilla is not too pleased with the idea of Jacqueline having any kind of pleasant interaction with her stepsister.
In one interaction between the Ghents, Marguerite asks her sister, “Honestly, Jacqueline, whose side are you on?” when she questions their scheme to use Danielle’s gown (and dowry) to lure Prince Henry. In another, Rodmilla dismisses Jacqueline’s disgust with Danielle’s more brutal treatment by saying the only reason Jacqueline is attending the ball is “for the food.”
Even at the ball in question, Rodmilla and Marguerite are seen standing together while Jacqueline is off to the side — but not by her lonesome. While understated, Jacqueline gets her own little happily ever after, just like Danielle. Though Rodmilla had been priming Marguerite to catch the attention of the Prince, what she did not notice was the head of the royal guard, Captain Laurent (Peter Gunn), having an eye for her less-favored daughter.
Earlier in the film, Jacqueline’s failed attempt at nabbing the Prince’s attention caused the Captain to laugh, and later at the ball, the pair found themselves wearing similar costumes while perusing the table of food. It’s apparent this is something the two have in common — a love of delicious eats — and it’s obvious he is as attracted to her as she is him due to their slight flirtation. This leads Jacqueline to veer away from her family and engage with him in shock and sympathy as opposed to joining her mother and sister who revel in degrading Danielle in front of the court.
When the story nears its close, Jacqueline is again found with the Captain when the Prince comes to his senses and realizes he found his equal in Danielle, and Jacqueline is pulled into this unit after disclosing (with slight disgust) the fate of the monarch’s beloved following her fall from grace at the masquerade.
By the end, Jacqueline has not only gotten herself a consort connected to the royals, she’s also freed of the verbal abuse of her mother, who, along with Marguerite, have been punished for their scheming and cruelty. No longer will she be shamed for the way she looks and the food she consumes, and no longer will she feel like the sister no one of importance will love, as she’s presumably gotten a seat in the royal court and a suitor to boot!
And so, much like Danielle, Jacqueline will also live happily ever after.