Persecution, Loving Your Enemy, and A LITTLE PRINCESS (1995)
NOTE: Originally published in THE PRINCESS GOSPELS (2018). Photos added.
“All women are princesses. It is our right.”
Distributor: Warner Bros. Family Entertainment
Producer: Mark Johnson
Director: Alfonso Cuaron Writers: Richard LaGravenese and Elizabeth Chandler Runtime: 97 minutes Rating: G
Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:1-5
Critically acclaimed and nominated for five Oscars, A Little Princess is a beautiful, heartfelt film that was poorly marketed and went largely overlooked, not even making its $17 million budget back at the box office. Sara Crewe is a little girl born into privilege and raised in India in the 1910s by her military father. He's called to action in World War I, so he puts Sara in a boarding school in New York where she immediately comes to blows with the jealous headmistress, Miss Minchin, who makes her a servant once its discovered that her father has died in battle.
The film was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who went on to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and, based on this movie, you can definitely see why the brass at Warner Bros. tapped him for the job. There is no magic in the movie, but this story set at a boarding school is one of the most stunningly filmed and magical-feeling movies you will ever see. Where A Little Princess suffers is in its editing; a lot of awkward transitions and dissolves draw attention to themselves, and the movie comes across less like a flowing narrative and more like a series of scenes building onto one another. As a result, it feels its 97-minute length, but visual splendor and heart more than make up for it.
Eleanor Bron plays Miss Minchin as a proper lady with bottomless reserves of malice stewing behind her prim smile. She clearly resents her young charges and is bitter over what we presume was an austere and joyless childhood. She takes special delight in tearing Sara down, and makes it her personal mission to break her spirit – likely in an effort to prove her own uncompromising ideology to herself. While in India, Sara was taught that every girl is a princess; it's her guiding philosophy and coping mechanism, and the thing that Minchin wants most of all to destroy.
The two clash nearing the climax. Minchin sneers at the child she's consigned to a damp, cold attic, and asks how Sara could still think of herself a princess, cackling with a mirthless delight, but Sara won't relent. She insists that all women are princesses, “Even if they live in tiny old attics, even if they dress in rags, even if they aren't pretty, or smart, or young; they're still princesses - all of us!” She then turns it back to Miss Minchin, demanding, “Didn't your father ever tell you that? Didn't he?”
What I find the most powerful about the exchange is that Sara isn't merely fighting back against her persecutor or defending her beliefs – she is genuinely trying to get through to this horrid woman and help her see that truth in herself. How many of us could have had that same attitude in those circumstances? Sara constantly proves herself to be the adult in the room, truly caring about everyone. Whether it's being supportive of classmates who are bullied, trying to convince her teacher to pursue her one, true love in spite of looking the other way at the terrible treatment she herself receives, or giving her own shoes to a fellow servant, Sara is a nurturer. That, I think, is what Minchin hates the most about her.
One of the hardest things to do is find humanity in monsters, yet it's one of most important aspects of our faith. The New Testament repeatedly implores us not to judge, lest we be judged by the standard we use against others, and one of Jesus' defining teachings was to love our enemies. A child like Sara should never be expected to abide in such a state as what Minchin puts her through, of course, no less to try to turn her around – but she does it anyway.
The saying goes to be kind to everyone, because they are fighting a battle you know nothing about. Even the Miss Minchins of the world. Maybe especially. The best way to overcome your enemy is by turning them into a friend. That's not always possible, nor healthy, but, if nothing else, knowing that all women are princesses (and, by extension, all men princes), should give us pause to consider how we regard one another. Do we give in to frustration, or do we treat others – even those who don't deserve it – with respect, as fellow royalty? Because all women are princesses – that is their right. Making sure that they know that, however, is our responsibility.
- Have you ever been able to reconcile with somebody you saw as an enemy?
Are you still friends now?
- How can regarding everyone you meet as being royal affect how you treat the people who are mean to you?
If you enjoyed this examination of A Little Princess, you might like my book, The Princess Gospels, a devotional of spiritual lessons we can learn from 24 of the best princess movies ever made. Get your copy here.
A Queens native, Jason grew up in Lakeland, FL and attended Rochelle School of the Arts before moving to Florida's Nature Coast, where he resides. He always dreamed of being a storyteller, and he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Leo University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Religion. He has been a professional guest speaker for thirteen years, talking at churches, graduations, and as a guest lecturer at Pasco-Hernando State College.