A Little Princess is a 1995 drama film directed by Alfonso Cuarón, starring Eleanor Bron, Liam Cunningham (in a dual role) and introducing Liesel Matthews with supporting roles done by Vanessa Lee Chester, Rusty Schwimmer, Arthur Malet, and Errol Sitahal.
It is loosely based upon the novel "A Little Princess" by Frances Hodgson Burnett, this adaptation was heavily influenced by the 1939 cinematic version and takes creative liberties with the original story.
Due to poor promotion by Warner Bros., the film hardly made back half its budget. However, the film was critically acclaimed and given various awards, such as two Academy Award nominations for its significant achievements in art direction and cinematography, among other aspects of its production.
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
Sara Crewe (Liesel Matthews) is the kind, caring daughter of Captain Crewe (Liam Cunningham), a wealthy aristocrat living in India. Her mother died when she was very young, and she has to leave her beloved childhood home and friends when her father volunteers to fight for the British as an officer in World War I.
He enrolls her at a girls' boarding school in New York and instructs the headmistress Miss Minchin (Eleanor Bron) to spare no expense making sure his daughter will be comfortable while he is away. He has reserved her the school's largest suite & gives Sara a specially-made French doll named Emily telling her that if she wants to talk to him, just speak to Emily and he will hear it.
Even though she finds the strict rules and Miss Minchin's harsh attitude stifling, Sara becomes popular among the girls, including the scullery maid Becky (Vanessa Lee Chester), for her kindness and strong sense of imagination. She writes constant letters to her father, which are a great source of happiness for him on the battlefields of Europe.
Due to a body being misidentified, Captain Crewe is declared dead when he is actually seriously injured and suffering from amnesia and the British government seizes his company and assets.
When Miss Minchin hears the news, she is in the middle of throwing a lavish party for Sara, hoping to extort more money from her father. When Crewe's solicitor arrives and tells her there will be no more money, Miss Minchin is furious.
Since Sara is now penniless and has no known relatives, Miss Minchin decides to move her into the attic with Becky to work as a servant where she will report to Mabel (Peggy Miley) at 5:00 AM.
Meanwhile, the elderly neighbor Charles Randolph (Arthur Malet) has received word that his son John, also fighting in Europe, is missing in action. He is asked to identify a soldier suffering from amnesia, but he is discouraged to discover it is not John. His Indian assistant Ram Dass (Errol Sitahal) encourages him to take in the man anyway, reminding him that he may know what happened to his son.
Though her life is bleak, Sara remains kind to others and continues to hold onto her belief that all girls are princesses. She and Becky later do a chimney prank on Miss Minchin after she scolds a young chimney sweep boy (Jonás Cuarón).
Sara even showed sympathy toward Miss Minchin's sister Amelia (Rusty Schwimmer) who has a crush on the Milkman.
When her friends later sneak up to see her and are caught by Miss Minchin, she protects them by saying she invited them. As punishment, Miss Minchin locks Becky into her room and assigns Sara to perform both Becky's and her own chores for the next day without anything to eat for both of them. To distract them from their hunger, they imagine a huge banquet. The next morning, they wake to find their dream has come true, having secretly been left there by Ram Dass.
Later that night, Amelia sneaks out of the school and runs off with the milkman. When Miss Minchin discovers all the finery in their rooms, she summons the police. Sara narrowly avoids arrest by perilously climbing over to the Randolph house. While hiding from the police searching the house, she comes across the soldier and realizes it is her father. Captain Crewe, though sympathetic to the girl, does not recognize her at all.
As she tries to make him remember, Miss Minchin and the police arrive. Though the headmistress clearly recognizes Crewe, she claims that Sara has no father and has the police officers take her away. As the police are about to take Sara away along with Becky, Crewe suddenly regains his memory and rescues his daughter.
Some time later, Captain Crewe had cleared things up with Miss Minchin's superiors and the bank. The boarding school is given to Mr. Randolph and his efforts make it a much happier place for the girls.
The Crewe family's wealth is restored to them and they adopt Becky. Captain Crewe tells Mr. Randolph his son died in a gas attack, giving the man closure. Miss Minchin is seen reduced to a chimney sweeper and working for the chimney sweeper boy she previously mistreated (who appears to be enjoying his revenge on Minchin).
After saying goodbye to all the girls, Sara leaves with her family to return to India.
- Eleanor Bron as Miss Minchin, a cruel and selfish woman who runs a boarding school where Sarah is enrolled. She is Amelia's older sister.
- Liam Cunningham as Captain Crewe
- Liam Cunningham also portrays Prince Rama, a character from Sara's story.
- Liesel Matthews as Sara Crewe, the daughter of Captain Crewe.
- Vanessa Lee Chester as Becky, Miss Minchin's servant who lives in the attic of the school.
- Rusty Schwimmer as Amelia, Miss Minchin's long suffering sister.
- Arthur Malet as Charles Randolph, a kind old man that lives next door to the school. He is loosely based on Mr. Carrisford.
- Errol Sitahal as Ram Dass, Randolph's servant who later befriends Sara.
- Alison Moir as Princess Sita, a character from Sara's story.
- Lomax Study as Monsieur Dufarge, a French teacher at Miss Minchin's school.
- Vincent Schiavelli as Mr. Barrow
- Taylor Fry as Lavinia
- Heather DeLoach as Ermengarde
- Peggy Miley as Mabel, a cook that works for Miss Minchin.
- Darcie Bradford as Jesse
- Rachael Bella as Betsy
- Alexandra Rea-Baum as Gertrude
- Camilla Belle as Jane
- Lauren Blumenfeld as Rosemary
- Kelsey Mulrooney as Lottie
- Kaitlin Cullum as Ruth
- Jonás Cuarón as Chimney Sweeper (uncredited)
Filming for "A Little Princess" began on April 11, 1994 and ended on July 11, 1994.
The filming locations took place at the Warner Bros. Burbank Studios in Burbank, California, Chicago, Illinois and the Taj Mahal in India.
The stores on the film's main street are named after various crew members and some of the extras in the flower lady scene also played the parents in the parents day scene.
"A Little Princess" was first given a limited release on May 12, 1995 where it grossed only $28,612 during its opening weekend.
During the film's wide theatrical release, it debuted at #6 at the box office, grossing $2,038,782 during its opening weekend.
In the United Kingdom, "A Little Princess" grossed £723,238. Domestically, it has grossed $10,015,449.
"A Little Princess" received positive reviews from critics upon its release. The film holds a 97% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 32 reviews with the critics consensus, "Alfonso Cuarón adapts Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel with a keen sense of magic realism, vividly recreating the world of childhood as seen through the characters."
Janet Maslin called the film "a bright, beautiful and enchantingly childlike vision", one that "draw[s] its audience into the wittily heightened reality of a fairy tale" and "takes enough liberties to re-invent rather than embalm Miss Burnett's assiduously beloved story."
"From the huge head of an Indian deity, used as a place where stories are told and children play, to the agile way a tear drips from Sara's eye to a letter read by her father in the rain, A Little Princess has been conceived, staged and edited with special grace. Less an actors' film than a series of elaborate tableaux, it has a visual eloquence that extends well beyond the limits of its story. To see Sara whirling ecstatically in her attic room on a snowy night, exulting in the feelings summoned by an evocative sight in a nearby window, is to know just how stirringly lovely a children's film can be."
Rita Kempley of The Washington Post called the film Cuarón's "dazzling North American debut" and wrote it "exquisitely re-creates the ephemeral world of childhood, an enchanted kingdom where everything, even make-believe, seems possible....Unlike most distaff mythology, the film does not concern the heroine's sexual awakening; it's more like the typical hero's journey described by scholar Joseph Campbell. Sara, the adored and pampered child of a wealthy British widower, must pass a series of tests, thereby discovering her inner strengths."