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If you read the comments for the '95 version, many people seem to say (in more or less words) that THAT version has been sadly overlooked. But even sadder, here's a version ('86) that is far better, and few people know it exists. (Just read some professional reviews on the internet, and they'll only mention two ones--the '39 and '95). Perhaps that's because quite a few haven't read the novel, or just because it's a classic, dismiss it as "boring" and "irrelevant" to today's society. But for those of us who have read the novel and loved it, this is by far the best movie of "The Little Princess" made. It doesn't rely on special effect interludes, like the '95 one, or cute little song and dance sessions like movie of '39. Here we just get the story as it is with all the characters presented in exactly the way the novel depicts them. Amelia Shankley did a wonderful job as Sara Crewe. She looked dark, thin and solemn, just as described in the novel, and acted quiet and wise as well. In fact, all the actors and actresses did a good job. Even if Lottie didn't look quite the way as described, she acted it out so well that it didn't matter at all. And that goes for everybody else who's in this. I watched this with my mother and she agreed that it was very well done, and that all the children were quite appealing. As well, the sets and costumes were not too bold, like in the '95 version (can you tell I didn't like that one?). Sara's surroundings are SUPPOSED to look drab and grey. If you've never seen a version of "The Little Princess" or read the book--obviously read the novel first, then see this one. But if the thought of Frances Hodgson Burnett's lovely story doesn't appeal to you, then by all means, see the others. In general, I love BBC productions of novels, because of their faithfulness to the original stories, and because of their length. (My favourite BBC miniseries of a novel would have to be the 1978 "Wuthering Heights"--exactly like the novel, to the T. Make every possible effort to see that if you've read the book).
I first encountered this version of A Little Princess, by far the best,
on a PBS station in the Pacific Northwest. It must have been new then.
It was shown during a holiday season station fund-raiser and promoted by ghastly comments by an attractive physically woman who made the sorts of comments I would expect a rather silly grandmother to make to someone else's grandchild.
I was somewhat insulted, but when the film began settled for enchantment which was sufficiently strong to keep me around when the second installment (I think there were only two, but this was 20-odd years ago) came along next night, when I also learned that the picture would be replayed throughout the promo which allowed me to make a tape of it.
Although the script does not slavishly repeat every bit of the Burnett novel, it completely mirrors it, changing some situations and condensing in some areas. Most of the minor deviations from the plot I assumed still do were because Sara had to be shown growing up and the story had to fit within length restrictions. Amelia Shankley was superb as was her nemesis, played by Maureen Lippman. Seldom mentioned is her companion, scullery maid Becky, or many other fine characterizations.
Parts of the film are sad and, because we (viewers) have become fond of Sara, a little frightening at times. We wish, sometimes, that Sara in her times of trial would be more defiant but realize, too, that she must submit to survive and also to protect her friends.
As intended, Sara comes across this mood is set even before the situations are defined as a true heroine, when adversity befalls her. She remains compassionate toward and grateful to those who are her friends, including Melchizedek (you have to know the story) toward whom she is also a benefactor.
Shankley, the costumers and makeup artists, surmount the challenges of a growing and changing girl who eventually displays some signs of illness (scurvy perhaps?).
Sara and her story remain compelling and attractive after a lapse of more than 100 years and this filmed version remains so after 20 years, but can we not find so compelling a version of what is perhaps Francs Hodgson Burnett's finest tale childhood?
Take heart, fans of this very true-to-the-novel movie version, the new
American channel Pax TV shows this movie sometimes, but unfortunately has
cut about 50 minutes from it, making it about an hour and 45 minutes long.
Still, it is heartening that this detailed version is faithful to the
novel's setting of 1880s London, and the premise that Sarah's father has
truly died, altho his "dear friend" finally finds the long-lost Sarah in the
end. I would have liked more exterior scenes, but good acting by
An interesting note - the novel started as a short story called "Sarah Crewe, or What Happened at Miss Minchin's" in the 1880s, serialized for a magazine. Response was so positive, that after the author Frances Burnett had adapted it for the stage at the turn of the century and called it "A Little Princess," she re-wrote the book version, adding length and detail, and calling it "Little Princess" as well. The latter is what most know about and what you will find in the bookstores, but both versions are available on the internet to compare texts.
This Little Princess is actually realistic to the book. The 1939 version is annoying and predictable, and Shirley Temple makes Sara seem mean and snotty instead of kind and solemn. And the 1995 version is too modernized. It's good that Liesel Matthews can sing, but what's that got to do with the story? New York? Mr. Randolph? All these details made it hard to concentrate. But this one was was the best out of the three. Amelia Shankely seemed just right for the part of Sara, even looking like her. This movie was sad, but that was the way it was supposed to be, A Little Princess isn't a comedy, although the other two versions though it was, making it too light, while this drama was smart and robust. Everyone did remarkable work.
This is one of the best adaptations of a book ever done. Amelia Shankley captures the character of Sara with a marvelous performance. She maintains her dignity and her natural kindness in spite of the most difficult circumstances. Maureen Lipmann's performance as the selfish, conceited head mistress is also very good. In fact, all of the performances are really very good. And best of all, for once the writers of the screenplay did not feel compelled to significantly change any of the story. The scene with the starving little girl in front of the bun shop is very well done and true to the book. This is a wonderful movie and I am hoping that it will soon be available on DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Frances Hodgson Burnett's "A Little Princess" is one of the most
fascinating and beautiful tales I have ever read;every scene has been
wrought to delicately add meaning to the story and brings us to a deep
appreciation and understanding of that unique character Sara Crewe whom
we follow during her sojourn at Miss Minchin's Select Seminary for
Young Ladies,in 1880s London.
For nearly four years Sara Crewe was distinguished as the "show pupil" at Miss Minchin's,a time in which she was materially provided for with the finest extravagances, as she had been accustomed to in India.Having lost his wife during his child's birth, the wealthy Captain Crewe had prodigiously indulged his daughter, affording her a life of luxury.Despite her awareness as to her station,Sara was kind and generous,ever considerate to those less fortunate than herself.She was quick to befriend Ermengarde,a pariah amongst the other pupils because of her academic dullness, Lottie,the spoilt baby of the classroom for whom she became a surrogate mamma,and the ill-treated scullery maid Becky,who had never been shown a drop of kindness in her wretched life.Then,on her eleventh birthday, the fateful news arrived that her father had died,having lost his entire fortune in a speculative investment.Bereft of her only family and almost all her possessions,Sara found herself reduced from being the privileged pupil to an ill-used skivvy at the seminary.Nevertheless,she strived to bear her hardships and remain a princess on the inside.
As a complement to the book I recommend the 1986 TV-adaptation, which visually brought to life the characters of the story and the feeling of the epoch.The cinematography pictured plainly but effectively the conditions of living in Victorian London,depicting the crowded marketplace and murky lanes littered with paupers and street urchins who spoke cockney and scraped a living off the streets, in stark contrast to the higher society whose children rode in carriages and promenaded in the parks on clear days. And even details such as the houses, the seminary, and the view from the garret window,whence the howling of the bitter winter wind on the rooftops could be heard,were quite as described in the book.The screenplay also followed the book closely, adding new details,leaving out many others, but most importantly,never contradicting the story and nature of the characters as portrayed by Burnett.
The casting was picked to match,as closely as possible, the characters' descriptions in the book. Amelia Shankley was absolutely wonderful as the dark haired,contemplative Sara Crewe:not only did she look like Sara,but interpreted the part with such conviction, as if she were truly living the character, enduring her adversities with the complexity of a myriad of emotions that swelled in her young heart and pictured clearly on her sore-plagued face.But her eyes lit up immediately when she was approached by Lottie or Ermengarde,or any one she thought a kind soul, partly out of the comfort it gave her, partly because her proud little spirit would refuse to have it otherwise, but mostly because of her consideration towards others' feelings:she knew, because of her own craving for it, what the warmth of a kindly smile could do to kindle and cheer a lonely heart, and thus she afforded them with a conscious good will.
Maureen Lipman as the unaffectionate Miss Minchin was excellent as well-I couldn't have envisioned a better interpretation.Her authoritative nature,absolute conviction in herself, business-like mind, made her the unchallenged captain of her ship; she was a born leader, and relished conducting her crew with the correctitude she deemed right.She would ceremoniously give a speech to "her young ladies", as on Sara's birthday or before the Christmas dispersal of the pupils, and characteristically clear her throat when effectuating what she considered a rather jocular statement intended for the younger girls, as she did before announcing in an incidental manner her message from Father Christmas.A great touch that I thought went just right with her character.
My commendations go the rest of the cast as well,who did a wonderful job.All I can say is that I wish you share my good fortune in being able to experience for yourself this enchanting adaptation of one of the most inspiring,heart-warming classics.
Sara Crewe is a singular character, rare as one can imagine,yet close to all of our inner beings;I recognise in my childhood-self her musings as to chance being responsible for who we are, her notions of inanimate objects having feelings of their own, her wistful conceptions of the thoughts of others -strangers she viewed during her daily outdoor errands to whom she gave descriptive names and mentally befriended. She was extremely intelligent,haughtily aware of her superiority though she never behaved in a condescending manner which would manifest her superior status -rather,she assumed it as a responsibility.She was ever judgemental of her own actions lest they should hurt another's feelings.A proud little soul, during her tribulations we repeatedly read in the pages of the book how her determined mind curbs a fit of pique, or accommodates her bodily wants and her emotional grievances through fanciful imaginings of better possibilities, so that destitute as she is she still gives freely from her heart , even if all she has to give are dreams and reveries, as we see in the successive visits she receives from Lottie and Ermengarde in her garret.It is the least a princess can do. She swallows her pride when Guy Clarence(actually Donald)offers her his sixpence out of charity, so convinced is he that it will provide for her forevermore; she gives a beggar girl most of her buns when she herself is weak with hunger, for she sees in her a poor waif -one of the populace- hungrier and colder than herself; she worries about the suffering of the Indian Gentleman nextdoor and prays for his well-being, despite her own forlorn situation. And she wishes for his sake that the father of the Large Family, on his way to Moscow, finds the little lost girl.And her wish came true.
This is definitely the best version of "A Little Princess" that I've ever
personally seen. Unlike that crappy 1995 one set in New York or the one
with Shirley Temple making me want to slap her, the PBS version had a Sara
who looked like Sara as she was described in the book. Not only that, she
*acted* like the Sara in the book, not like a whiny, boring little snot.
All the acting was very good, especially Miss Minchin's sister (Miriam
Margolyes) and the other schoolgirls. The screenplay was excellent.
Without relying on copying the actual words and phrases of the book
(although crucial plot moments were often almost word-for-word), it was very
true to the spirit and intention of the book and didn't offend people who
have loved and re-read the story. This is unusual for a movie based on a
book. Also, the cinematography showed the dreariness of Sara's life and
world very clearly with its rainy, muted colors.
All in all this was a completely wonderful movie. See it if you possibly can, although since it was broadcast on PBS at least ten years ago it's probably hard to find .
I found this on PBS' marvelous Wonderworks Series in the 80's and just fell
in love with it. It is THE definitive version of this wonderful story.
While the 1939 version only used the names from the book, creating a whole
new story (adding three new characters and having Sara find her father
alive), this version is very faithful to the original story, at times even
taking direct quotes from the book.
The acting by Amelia Shankley was simply marvelous... she WAS Sara. Nigel Havers was great as Carrisford, although when I read the book I never imagined someone quite so handsome as the "Indian Gentleman" -- I was delighted to be proven wrong. The acting all round was terrific.
If you have read the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, I highly recommend this movie. It will bring the book vividly to life.
I have to admit it: I watched this over and over when I was a little girl. It's not often that a story with such a clear moral message is this entertaining. Anyone out there who has kids, especially girls, should find this series and get it for them, they'll love it. The Shirley Temple version can't hold a candle to this one, if you were wondering. The realism is striking, especially in scenes which depict illness or poverty, and the tenderness in the relationships between the characters (or the harshness in some cases) is a feat not often achieved in family television drama. I'd recommend this series to anyone who likes Harry Potter, Pollyanna, Annie, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, Labyrinth, Gilliam's Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen or pretty much anything by Hayao Miyazaki. The protagonist of "The Little Princess" is a heroine in the tradition of the girls in all of these stories -- imaginative, patient, courageous and self-sacrificing. You'll love her, and your daughters will too.
This is the best movie distributed by Wonderworks I have ever seen. The original version in 1939 was cute, and Shirley Temple is cute too, but cutely annoying! In the 1995 version,cool stuff happened, but it almost followed a totally different story! This follows the story with great anticipation, and I think that every actor or actress was picked perfectly for their part. Amelia Shankley did the best job of portraying Sara that I've ever seen. She acted marvelously, and sunk so deeply into the role that you almost forgot she was Amelia. I was never really into classics, until I got A Little Princess for a novel I had to read back in the eighth grade. This may not be very popular, but is definately a movie you gotta own. I would suggest deeply searching amazon.com (that's what I did) because otherwise it would be impossible to find since it went out of business a few years ago. Bottom line: WATCH THIS, YOU'LL LOVE IT!!!!!!!!
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