A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett

I’ve already talked about one FHB novel, so to keep this one from getting boring, I’m going to make the synopsis part bite-sized…Ready? The Little Princess is the riches-to-rags story of Sara Crewe, a spoiled girl who becomes orphaned shortly after arriving to an all-girls boarding school. After the death of her beloved father, she is thrust into poverty, essentially becoming a slave/whipping-girl in order to pay off his looming financial debt. The whole thing is very unfair and sad, but Sara remains strong, primarily by imagining herself a princess and acting accordingly.

If you are like I was and have only seen the movie, prepare yourself, because I’m about to burst your bubble. The 1995 Alfonso Cuarón film (easily one of the best children’s movies out there!) is vastly different from its original story. (A short self-defense: I know there are several movie adaptations. They are probably also good. But this one is the best, no question. Why? Because it’s the one I grew up on, meaning it’s the only one worth mentioning.) Following are several differences from book to movie (please mind the spoilers if you intend to read the book!).

Liesel Matthews (her family owns  the Hyatt hotel chain!) played a splendid Sara in Alfonso Cuarón’s 1995 adaptation.

Thing That’s Different #1: There’s no locket. Remember when Sara’s friends have to break into Miss Minchin’s office to find it, and then get it back to its rightful owner? That doesn’t happen in the book. In fact, there’s not much mention of Sara’s mother at all.

Thing That’s Different #2: There’s no war! The book predates WWI, and Sara’s father doesn’t spend any time in the trenches. Instead he goes back to India to invest in some diamond mines.

Thing That’s Different #3: Sara doesn’t tell bedtime stories to hoards of classmates. The only people who visit her room are Ermengarde and Lottie, and they don’t really cross hairs in the book. Also, there is no scene where they all read aloud to Miss Minchin’s harp-playing. In fact, there’s no harp.

Thing That’s Different #4: Becky. In the books, Becky is a Cockney scullery maid of fourteen years old, twice as old as Sara. To cast a younger black girl as Becky in the movie was an interesting choice which, in my opinion, added a layer to the movie. Essentially marginalizing her further, the racial aspect demands that more attention be paid to the injustice dealt to poor children in that era (late 1880’s).

Thing That’s Different #5: Amelia. Miss Minchin’s silly sister never runs away with the milkman. Actually, she’s sort of a B-word, too. Bummer.

Thing That’s Different #6: Less emphasis on India. It’s mentioned and briefly described, but there are no flashbacks to Sara’s life there, and certainly no side-story about a princess locked up in a tower by a multi-headed green monster.

Thing That’s Different #7 [Spoiler alert!]: Sara’s father doesn’t go missing, and he doesn’t mysteriously reappear in the house next door, with an addled memory. There is no running-out-in-the-rain scene at the end, when he suddenly remembers his only daughter. He was simply dead all along. Somewhat typical of the tell-it-like-it-is writing style of the day, even in kid-lit, FHB offered no pat answers or twist endings. The book presents a straight, uncomplicated story line with a bittersweet ending that might be a little depressing by today’s standards. The movie definitely improved on this aspect with one of the most touching cinematic moments EVER, still never ceasing to make me burst into a stream of tears, even though I’ve seen it upwards of twenty times (watch it here!). Still, the original ending is rather cheerful despite Sara’s having to stay an orphan.

For some interesting additional facts about this classic tale, see its Wikipedia page.

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2 responses

  1. I have only read the short children’s classic version of this book and that was ages ago. That being said I love the movie mentioned VERY much but would also like to recommend the BBC adaption that was filmed I believe in the late 80’s early 90’s. Me and my sister’s would rent it from the library and watch it religiously – that and the BBC version of ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’. I believe that the BBC version is quite a bit more accurate as well.

  2. Pingback: Top Ten Best/Worst Movie Adaptations | A Novel Thing

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