movie film review | chris tookey

Little Princess

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  Little Princess Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
7.33 /10
Sara Crewe ................. Liesel Matthews , Miss Minchin ............... Eleanor Bron , Father/Prince Rama ......... Liam Cunningham
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Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
Written by: Richard LaGravenese and Elizabeth Chandler. Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Released: 1995
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Length: 97


Motherless Sara Crew (Liesel Matthews) has been brought up like a princess in India, but is sent to a grim, forbidding boarding school when her father (Liam Cunningham) is called to serve in the trenches of World War I. Presiding over the academy is haughty spinster Miss Minchin, played by Eleanor Bron with magnificent, camel-like disdain. Minchin does her best to turn her pupils into trivial, insensitive snobs; but Sara's kindness and imagination render her immune from malign influence. Sara's tales - partly from Indian mythology and partly invented - make her the most popular girl in the school, but that situation is jeopardised when her father is reported missing in action and the British government confiscates all his assets (why, we're never told). Sara, suddenly penniless, is banished to the attic and forced to work as a maid alongside a little black girl (Vanessa Lee Chester). All this time, Minchin's unthinking cruelty is contrasted with the silent benevolence of the mysterious Indian manservant next door (Errol Sitahal).

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Despite outstanding reviews, A Little Princess wasn't a hit; and it does have its weaknesses. The early part is probably too slow for today's generation of children, raised on computer games and cartoons. Moreover, the happy ending can be seen coming from several miles away. Yet little girls will love it; and so will discriminating parents.
Co-writer Richard LaGravenese's previous screenplays for The Fisher King and The Bridges of Madison County showed a flair for discovering the mysterious and beautiful in everyday life. This (co-written with Elizabeth Chandler) has that same quality. Burnett's novel has been adapted from the Victorian era to the early twentieth century, and from Britain to America; but the changes don't detract from a screenplay which is far superior to Hollywood's previous attempt, a soppy vehicle for Shirley Temple in 1939.
The film may not have much in the way of action - but the little it has, it manages thrillingly. Besides, its talented Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron is intent on communicating something much rarer in children's films, a kind of visual poetry.
The result is one of the most ravishingly gorgeous pictures since Edward Scissorhands. Cinematographer Emmanual Lubezki's work on Like Water For Chocolate was fine preparation for this even more striking exercise in magic realism.
Production designer Bo Welch has equalled his magnificent work on Edward Scissorhands with an elaborate fantasy of New York. The interiors are superbly stylised creations in shades of dark green, with little girls dwarfed by cavernous halls and enormous doors. By way of contrast, the Indian fantasy sequences are highly coloured extravaganzas.
It is also a treat for the ears. Patrick Doyle's music has a haunting beauty; this was the young Briton's best score yet.
All the acting is impeccable. Eleanor Bron commendably refrains from going over the top and is therefore both funny and frightening; while in the central role Liesel Matthews is marvellously unaffected, with the luminous beauty that only children have.
The film is a celebration of the power of imagination, and the unquestioning love which should exist between parent and child. At several points, it communicates that same sense of wonder which pervaded Spielberg's masterpiece, E.T. But that film was from a masculine standpoint; it's a pleasant change that this film looks through different eyes. A Little Princess is a delightful fable and a treat for the whole family. For once, that over-used word "magical" is no exaggeration.

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