Updated: Jan 20
Ever After met with box office success and today, scores an impressive 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. But how historically accurate was this updated adaptation of the Cinderella story?
By Anjuli McDaniel-Weissler
I first saw the 1998 film Ever After in its original release and enjoyed this modern retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale. But as an historian (and for fun), I felt compelled to research the period during which the story is set… not to take anything away from the film, mind you. But the screenwriters dropped a number of historical hints throughout the film, so it makes a fair bit of sense to see how well the screenwriters did.
The movie begins in the 1800s as the Brothers Grimm are visiting the aging queen of France. She informs them that their supposed fictional story about Cinderella is actually the true tale of her great-great grandmother's romance with a widowed merchant. (Although the elder of The Brothers Grimm was briefly employed in Paris in 1805, there is no record that the two brothers ever traveled together to France or had an audience with the queen.)
This young Cinderella, the aging queen recounts, was the merchant’s only child. By way of a flashback, the 10-year-old Cinderella is shown receiving from her father a gift of Thomas More's Utopia. Since this book was published in 1516, the screenwriters clearly intended to set the action sometime after this year. However, the fashions worn by the women throughout the movie are characteristic of the early 1400s, with their high-waisted, low-cut, round-necked bodices and flowing, unhooped skirts. This is in stark contrast with the French fashions of the early 1500s, which were typified by low, square-cut bodices with long, puffed sleeves, hooped skirts with over- and under-skirts, and formal headpieces.
Our next clues as to historical setting come from the royal family line in the film. During the movie we meet King Francis, ostensibly Francis I (r. 1515–1547) and his second son Henry, who plays the Crown Prince in the movie. However, it is here where we run into several stumbling blocks.
First, Francis' first wife and Henry's mother was named Claude, not Marie as she is referred to in the film. Moreover, historically, Henry had several siblings, including an older brother. Although they are conveniently dispensed with in the movie, any historian will tell you that in 1516, Francis I (b. 1494) would not have been the grizzled, middle-aged King depicted in the movie, but a youthful 21 year old.
Although it's true that in 1515 King Francis invited Leonardo da Vinci to the French summer palace, this visit took place one year before the publication of Thomas More's Utopia… not after. And since at this time Prince Henry had not yet been born, he certainly could not have been a young man of marriageable age when da Vinci arrived at the French Court.
Two final anachronisms also appear in the film. The first occurs when an exasperated Queen Marie jibes that “divorce is only something they do in England.” This is clearly meant as a reference to the scandalous divorces of England’s King Henry VIII, Francis I's lifelong rival. If this quip was made in 1515, however, it makes no sense, as Henry VIII of England had not yet divorced his first wife and his second divorce from Anne of Cleves would not take place for another 25 years. The second anachronism is when Prince Henry offers chocolate to Danielle's stepsister, Marguerite. Although chocolate was introduced to Spain in the 1500s by the Conquistadors, it was not introduced to France before 1615, when it debuted at the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. If it were not for the arrival of da Vinci in France—and provided that the costumes matched the period—the story would almost work if it was set around 1540. But its retelling must be allowed some artistic license and historical inaccuracy. It is a film about a fairy tale, after all.