Frances Hodgeson Burnett's children's classic A Little Princess has been a great favourite of mine for many years. When I as around five or six years old, my mother bought a pocket-sized illustrated abridged version of this book, which she would read aloud to me.
The story captured my imagination. It inspired me, this tale of a girl who loses everything yet still tries to behave with the true goodness and graciousness of a princess. As Elizabeth wrote in this recent post at A Maiden's Wreath, there's something magical in the idea of pretending to be a princess, no matter how miserable one's circumstances are.
When I was older, I read the complete version, and enjoyed it just as much.
And now I am very happy to say that I have found what I think could be classified as the definitive version of A Little Princess - it's an obscure, lesser-known tv adaptation made for a U.S. tv network in 1986.
It is, for the most part, reasonably faithful to the book - much more so than either the 1939 or 1995 versions. Many of the characters seemed as though they had stepped straight from the pages of the book! The actresses who played Miss Minchin, Miss Amelia, most of the schoolgirls and Becky were particularly well cast, I thought.
Amelia Shankley plays Sara Crewe, the heroine. At first she seemed to me to be too old for the part - she was about 14 years old when this was being filmed - but she did such a fantastic job; and the costumes made her look younger, too. Clothes for Victorian little girls were so pretty - I loved the outfits worn by most of the girls in this movie, they were all so lovely and frilly. . .
But back to Amelia Shankley - she truly was wonderful as Sara. She has such beautiful, expressive eyes. I don't know whether or not she is still acting, but she certainly showed a great deal of talent at a very early age in this production.
In fact, I was very impressed with pretty much all of the acting. I thought the actors here were in general better than the those in the 1995 version. Ironic, considering the '95 version was a (comparatively) big-budget Hollywood production, whereas this was just a small, made-for-tv movie. . . Oh well, I guess it just goes to show once again that the British know better than anyone how to do period drama!
Another thing that I noticed here was that this version did a much better job in getting across to the viewer just how dark and bleak Sara's existence was. She really was in a horrible situation, and her heart and mind were not immune to it - princess that she was, bitterness and distrust still managed to creep in a little. This adaptation did not shirk from this darker aspect of the story. I am glad, because it adds depth and realism to Sara's character.
Finally, I was pleased to find that they stuck with the original ending for the story, just the way it is, straight from the book. Both of the other versions changed the ending to make fuzzier and more feel-good, but the ending as it is in the book is much better - maybe not happier, but more believable, and ultimately still full of hope.
So, I now have you all ready to go out and buy the DVD ( :D ), but guess what - it isn't available on DVD! *Collective groan*. . . It is such a shame. I know there are a great many people who would buy it if only it were available on DVD. Someone ought to put together a petition for Little Princess fans to sign, then we'd make them put it onto dvd. . .
If you want to, you can buy the VHS second-hand from certain places, Amazon included.
But wait, here's the good news - some wonderful person has posted A Little Princess, in its entirety, on Youtube! Click here to watch part 1.
I should add that it is a miniseries in two parts - altogether, it goes for close to three hours, so you may want to watch it over a period of several days, as I did. Then again, you might want to watch all of it in one go - I've heard of people who will watch all 5 hours of Pride and Prejudice '95 in one sitting. . .
Here's the IMDb page if you want to read more information or reviews of A Little Princess. It has a user rating of 9 out of 10 from 200 votes - a remarkably high rating for IMDb. . .
Current mood: Tired