"A Little Princess" is a fantasy targeted to young girls,
of about the age of ten. This means that adult males
whose notion of a great movie is watching Clint Eastwood
get the bad guys (sometimes that can be my idea of a
great movie as well) will likely find the film to be
If you watch a film for action, "A Little Princess" is
painfully slow. But if you are looking for emotion, the
film delivers the goods: privilege, injustice, revenge,
liberation, generosity, and suffering are among the themes.
While the entire plot could be condensed into an episode
of "Wishbone", the story merely provides a vehicle for
displaying the intense emotions that a little girl can feel.
The story is familiar, because it has been done before.
The original is from the children's novel by Frances Hodgson
Burnett. There were four earlier cinematic versions,
including a silent from 1917. The most famous version
is a Shirley Temple vehicle from 1939, which is almost
but not quite as good.
Sara (Liesel Matthews) is a young girl dotingly raised in
India by her wealthy and widowed father. He must fight in
World War I, and he places her in a New York boarding school
run by the intimidating Miss Minchin (Eleanor Bron).
Sara becomes very popular, earning the jealousy of schoolmate
Amelia (Rusty Schwimmer). However, Sara's father is killed
in the war and his assets are siezed. Her tuition cannot
be paid, and she is forced into servitude, much to the
pleasure of Minchin and Amelia. But a magical Indian servant
(Errol Sitahal) takes an interest in her fortunes.
Bron has the best role, in the fine tradition of Louise Fletcher
from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". She dislikes the
independent Sara, but tolerates her as long as the bills are
paid. When Sara can no longer afford tuition, Bron dresses her
in black, steals her possessions and relegates her to the attic.
This isn't all bad, as Sara is now able to be with the shunned
black servant girl, and can show her generosity by buying flowers
from street beggars (it only becomes generous when you are
nearly a beggar yourself).
The sets, such as World War I battlefields and New York alleys,
are well done although the budget requires them to be small in
scale. The magical Indian is present to validate Sara's childish
fantasy stories, and to make plausible the incredible coincidences
behind the reuniting of father and daughter.
Copyright © 1995 Brian Koller