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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fairy Tales Can Come True in the Movies

Ever After," now showing at the Dome Cinema, is a rare thing indeed: a children's movie that sparkles with wit, intelligence and fine acting - without "dumbing down" for its target audience. And that makes it entertaining enough for adults too.

True, the movie can't bear the weight of any claims to greatness; you shouldn't go expecting a masterpiece, or you'll come away disappointed.

But writer-director Andy Tennant's crisp retelling of the Cinderella story is definitely a solid, if modest, achievement, especially in an age when most Hollywood products are little more than assembly-line dreck, reeking of focus groups, pixel art and accountants.

Tennant and his co-writers, Susannah Grant and Rick Parks, have cleverly updated the well-worn tale by making it a "true" story: the supposed facts that gave rise to the fairy-tale legend. They give it a historical setting - 16th-century France - and they give the heroine a real name: Danielle. They also make the radical move of allowing a few glints of humanity to show through the wicked stepmother's fierce emotional armor.

Perhaps their wittiest move was jettisoning the "fairy godmother" character altogether, in favor of one of history's few truly magical figures: Leonardo da Vinci. He serves the godmother's function in the story - helping to facilitate the seemingly impossible love between a serving girl and a prince - but without the mice-and-pumpkins routine.

What makes the movie really work, however, is the acting - particularly the performances of the two principals: Drew Barrymore as Danielle, and Ange lica Huston as the stepmother, Rodmilla. Barrymore is excellent at capturing her character's feisty individualism - a requirement for any modern movie heroine - without striking too many anachronistic postures or sacrificing all sense of the historical context. She makes us believe that Danielle is a strong young woman of the 16th century, not simply a 20th-century robo-babe dropped into Renaissance France.

Huston's Rodmilla is sufficiently cruel to drive the story along its allotted path, but even her situation is put into some context. She married Danielle's father only to see him drop dead a few weeks later; now a widow with two daughters from her previous marriage, she is in a precarious position. Finding Danielle, a country girl, too rustic for her tastes, Rodmilla focuses all her energy on advancing the fortunes of her own children - and preserving the dwindling fortune of her husband's estate. None of this justifies her malevolence toward Danielle, which takes a particularly nasty turn toward the end, but it anchors it in recognizably human behavior.

The prince, played by Dougray Scott, is something of a cipher, as these dashing, big-haired heartthrobs tend to be. Scott's performance, though game enough, is not quite the match of Barrymore's, although they do have some interesting and believable moments together. Patrick Godfrey makes a fine Leonardo, who has wandered into the story during a journey across France, dispensing his wisdom and stratagems with an agreeably light touch.

The weakest links in the film are the king and queen (Timothy West and Judy Parfitt). They play the royal pair as a couple of good-natured goofballs. A bit of gravitas in this area might have made the prince's dilemma more stark, and thus more dramatically compelling.

You won't be swept away or deeply moved by "Ever After," but you will be charmed by its quiet pleasures - chiefly the performance of its young star.