Movie #27 2021: A Little Princess (1995)

Okay, okay. I’m cheating a little bit with this one. This entire blog is supposed to be filled with reviews of films I’ve never seen before… I’ve actually seen A Little Princess already, so it’s not strictly a “first watch”… but I was probably about 7 the last time I saw it, so does that really count? It was practically a past life, right? And how many 7 years olds really pay attention to anything other than the ‘fun’ parts of a film? Whatever you think, I’m including it. So there.

A Little Princess marks a very early directorial credit for the now Oscar winning Alfonso Cuarón. I beg your pardon: the quadruple Oscar winner, Alfonso Cuarón. That’s right: before he was flying high with his Best Director wins for Gravity and Roma, he was directing child actors on the set of this movie. To be fair to him, he was only 34 years old at the time, and being the head of any feature film at a relatively young age is quite the feat. In this movie – which is aimed at children but has a definite adult watchability about it – we follow the life of young Sara, an aristocrat’s daughter. Sadly, her father has been sent to fight for the British in World War One, and she is left to live amongst other young girls at a boarding school helmed by the cruel Miss Minchin. After some time, it comes to her attention that her father may be dead, and Sara is forced into slavery with another young girl – the only non-white child in the building.

So this is obviously not Alfonso Cuarón‘s best movie, but there are still telltale signs of his greatness shining through it. I mean, what kind of children’s film needs to be shot so artistically, really?! And yet, that’s what he manages to do here. (Side note: the cinematography and art direction were both nominated for Oscars in their respective categories, so you can probably grasp how nice it looks.) Plus, it’s not exactly all happy-go-lucky – those scenes in the trenches are harrowing, and have such high production value that you can just tell Cuarón was destined for great things, even in his early days.

Alongside such great cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life, The Revenant, Sleepy Hollow), the costuming and set decoration in this movie is actually kind of… amazing?! (Both of the women responsible for these aspects went on to do movies like Avengers: Endgame and Pirates of the Caribbean after this, so that’s no surprise once you research it!) And Patrick Doyle helms this movie’s haunting score on top of all that?! What a crew Cuarón assembled for this one.

Narratively, it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen by the end. However, it’s not without its merits. Though the subplot of slavery and racism is over-simplified (this is technically still a story for kids, after all) one can easily appreciate that the message of “people are not born racist” comes through loud and clear. Nicely done, especially for 1995. Though I’m not sure Frances Hodgson Burnett intended this in her original novel, the friendship between Sara and Becky ends up being the heart and soul of the entire film, which is a really nice addition.

Although it does get a little snoozy in the middle and some of the kids’ performances leave a lot to be desired at times, there’s still something so magical and sweet about the whole thing… even though I’m not 7 anymore and it’s undoubtedly cheesy at hell. All of the talent behind the scenes might have something to do with it, I think!

A Little Princess is available to rent on Amazon and the Sky Store for £3.49 in the UK.

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