Judge Tamika Adair found this little princess less spoiled than most.
"When things are at their blackest, the magic always comes to your rescue."
A Little Princess may come off a bit theatrical in presentation and acting; nonetheless, it is a morality tale that proves to be quite satisfying and engaging.
Facts of the Case
This 1986 version of the many productions of A Little Princess is a faithful adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel. Sara Crewe (Amelia Shankley) is the daughter of an affluent Captain in the British Army, who spoils her adoringly. She is sent to an all-girls boarding school in England and entrusted to the care of Miss Minchin (Maureen Lipman, The Pianist), the headmistress, in order to learn how to be a lady. However, after a diamond mine proves to be bad investment, her father falls ill and dies penniless. Sara is demoted to the position of a maid and treated harshly by Miss Minchin and the help. Regardless of her unfortunate position, she never resorts to self-pity and remains determined to survive her strife, with the hopes of finding happiness once again.
While the plot spans two countries, England and India, a bulk of the action occurs within the confines of a London seminary for girls. The protagonist, Sarah Crewe is a sweet child, who is doted upon by her attentive father. Although she is given all that she could ever want and more, she remains sweet-natured, humble and generous. When she is sent to London to learn how to be a lady, she is an outcast among the other girls because of her extravagant wealth. Unfazed, Sara ignores their thinly-veiled jealousy and instead befriends the other outcasts, including the seminary's young maid, Becky (Natalie Abbott).
The wonderful thing about Sara is that she has this penetrating way of sizing people up. Perceptive and precocious, she intuitively knows who she is as well as everyone else. Nothing gets past her. So, when Miss Michin tries to persuade Sara that she is resorting to kindness by providing her with shelter instead of tossing Sarah onto the street, Sara isn't having it. She's not convinced.
Amelia Shankley captures the resilient gumption and clever imagination of Miss Sara Crewe perfectly. Unlike some of the other performers, who come off a bit theatrical, her acting is understated and natural. Where the others seem like caricatures with their loud, haughty high-pitched shrills and contrived movements, Amelia remains a gentle soul, who is both soft-spoken and sincere.
What makes this a must for children are the lessons dealing with class, wealth, humility, and good will. Spoiled by the comfort of always having money, Sara finally realizes the struggle and disdain that comes with being poor. Although she had a clue that some people feign their sympathies for you when you have money, she had no idea how cold people actually are without it. Because Sara was so generous herself, she found help from those that she reached out to before her plight. Her small acts of kindness made a difference in both her and others' lives, which is why these lessons are crucial to child development.
One scene that really left an impression on me was when Sara believes the reason why people are poor is bad luck. However, her maid gives her a jewel of wisdom and says that being poor is the will of God, a necessary trial, in order "to strengthen their characters." I, like Sara, always believed that bad things sometimes happen to good people and that they were just unlucky. But now I realize that maybe it's a test of wills. Maybe that is why some continue to lose out, despite their valiant efforts. Maybe if they adopt Sara's habits of generosity, humility, kindness and don't resort to self-pity, things could change. You may not get filthy rich, but you'll be rich at heart.
Although the production value is quite limited to canned sets, harsh lighting and dated effects, the story is steadfast in its moral lessons. It's a wonderful movie that will engage and touch both kids and adults.
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