A Little Princess (1995) starring Liesel Matthews, Eleanor Bron, Liam Cunningham, Rusty Schwimmer, Arthur Malet, Vanessa Lee Chester, Errol Sitahal directed by Alfonso Cuarón Movie Review

A Little Princess (1995)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Liesel Matthews as Sara Crewe in A Little Princess (1995)

Princess in the Attic

Regular visitors to The Movie Scene should be able to predict what I am about to say as they will know I am not or have ever been a big book reader and have never read Frances Hodgson Burnett's story "A Little Princess". My only knowledge of Burnett's story if from having watched and reviewd the 1939 adaptation with Shirley Temple "The Little Princess". With that in mind I find myself having watched the 1995 adaptation and feeling ender whelmed and preferring the older version despite finding that one expectedly sickly sweet. My trouble comes from the differences because they didn't work for me, from the magical fairytale story which Sara tells to the changed ending. Having said that I do appreciate that much of the sugar coating which dominated the 1939 version of "A Little Princess" has been discarded.

With her father heading off to fight in WWI, Sara Crewe (Liesel Matthews) leaves India and heads to New York to stay at the Miss Minchin Seminary for girls where her father's wealth affords her a comfortable standard of living. Initially finding the discipline of a school under the strict Miss Minchin (Eleanor Bron) hard to get use to Sara slowly makes friends with the others girls and Becky (Vanessa Lee Chester) who is a servant living in the bleak attic. But everything changes when news arrives that Sara's father has died in battle and there is no more money causing Sara to have to become a servant like Becky to pay for her keep. But despite the hardship Sara still believes in the best and her friends believe in her.

Errol Sitahal and Arthur Malet in A Little Princess (1995)

So as you can imagine having never read the original story I don't know for sure how much is the original story and what has been changed in this version of "A Little Princess" although I do know some things have definitely changed and been expanded on. But the thing is that certain elements just don't work for me especially a continuing fantasy story which Sara tells her friends about an Indian Prince. I can see the point of this addition as it tries to mirror Sara's story but it is for me too fantasy like and becomes a distraction. I also don't like the ending which differs from the 1939 version and in doing so changes one of the themes of the story which is disappointing.

But the thing is that whilst I dislike these changes I do like the fact that this "A Little Princess" is a far less sugar coated version than the Shirley Temple version from 1939. It's still very safe and never truly gritty but at least there are elements of darkness to it which makes it more like a drama than a cutesy fairytale which was how the 1939 version sometimes came across.

But for me the biggest disappointment was the characters combined with the casting. This version of "A Little Princess" for all sense and purpose becomes a two person movie between Sara and Miss Minchin with the rest of the characters having less to do which when it comes to the kindly old Charles Randolph and his servant Ram Dass is a big mistake. But the acting is also stiff and whilst Liesel Matthews as Sara is pleasant she lacks the spark and fight you expect from a character who will never give up.

What this all boils down to is that "A Little Princess" is entertaining and does some nice things with the story but it also does some things I didn't like such as the fantasy story and the altered ending. I am sure for those who have only seen this version it will entertain but for me the 1939 Shirley Temple version is better despite being heavy on the sugar coating.