“Miss Minchin: Don’t tell me you still fancy yourself a princess? Child, look around you! Or better yet, look in the mirror.
Sara Crewe: I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren’t pretty, or smart, or young. They’re still princesses. All of us. Didn’t your father ever tell you that? Didn’t he?”
Released in 1995 by a newcomer film director, Alfonso Cuaron, this film touched on the fierce nature of one little girl and stayed in many viewers’ hearts for a long while. Cuaron is now an Oscar winning director and this film, although nearly 20 years old (say what), still remains a movie that creates natural whimsy and quiet heartache in ways few others have achieved.
Sarah Crews has been dropped off by her father at a boarding school she will attend while he’s off at war. She is a warm, kind-hearted child who despite her riches has never allowed herself to be placed on a pedestal. However, soon tragic news arrives saying that her father has been killed and all of her money is gone. The evil headmistress tells her she must work as a maid to pay off her debt and all of her nice, extravagant possessions are taken from her. She moves into the attic with fellow maid Becky and the two young girls strike up a friendship in order to get through the hand they’ve been dealt. Of course, anyone who’s seen the film knows that not everything with her father is what it appears, and his resurgence into her life is nearly as heartbreaking as the first night when she believes she’ll never see him again.
This film is a powerful one, particularly for young girls and particularly for ones already feeling the self-doubt that an overactive, misguided and micro-managing society can reap. It’s interesting to note that when Sarah first arrives at the school, she looks like a doll – the quintessential little girl that for anyone who’s ever seen a child, knows isn’t the case. She has big doe eyes, tightly wound curls and is dressed in frills and ribbons. She is the pristine image of innocence that has yet to be tarnished and isn’t that an ideology that’s forced on girls and young women? This idea of perfection.
What turns this image on its head is the relationship that Sarah develops with the rest of the girls, likened to a sisterly bond. While there is one mean girl (and even she turns around), most of the girls are friendly to one another, a welcome change after so many films with women centered on cattiness. She consoles Lottie, a little girl who’s known for her tantrums, befriends the bespectacled girl who’s often bullied and shows compassion for the headmistresses sister who hasn’t ever been allowed the freedom to find love. She doesn’t shame people on gender, race, religion or appearance, just offers compassion in an open, welcoming manner. She’s a young girl whom more people should look up to.
Possibly one of the most interesting dynamics is that between Ms. Minchin and Sarah, the former someone who’s never seen love the way Sarah has and who takes it out on her because of it. Despite this, Sarah tells her that even she, her tormentor, is worthy of it. Sarah is a brave, adventurous and spirited young girl.
Again, on reflection, this film was a significant one personally. Girls are born into a world where they’re bombarded with one insecurity after another, and here was a young girl who ignored all of this and believed in herself no matter the harsh realities she was facing.
Beyond the messages – which are great – this film is also beautifully shot, making us feel like we’re watching a fairytale. Cuaron wasn’t a big name then, but he was obviously destined to become one. This film meant a lot to me when I was younger but the best, most satisfying part of it is that even now, at 22, it resonates. It was all about a girl becoming a character in one of her stories – one who faced every threat and danger and came out of it the heroine and found herself surrounded by love.