A Little Princess (1995 film)

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A Little Princess
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Produced by Mark Johnson
Screenplay by Richard LaGravenese
Elizabeth Chandler
Based on A Little Princess 
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Starring Eleanor Bron
Liam Cunningham
Liesel Matthews
Music by Patrick Doyle
Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki
Edited by Steven Weisberg
Distributed by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment
Release dates
  • May 10, 1995 (1995-05-10)
Running time
97 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $17 million
Box office $10 million[2]

A Little Princess is a 1995 drama film directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Eleanor Bron, Liam Cunningham (in a dual role), and introducing Liesel Matthews as Sara Crew. Set during World War I, it focuses on a young girl who is relegated to a life of servitude in a New York City boarding school by the headmistress after receiving news that her father was killed in combat. 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.,[3][4] the film hardly made back half its budget. However, the film was critically acclaimed[5] and given various awards, such as two Academy Award nominations [6] for its significant achievements in art direction and cinematography, among other aspects of its production.


Sara Crewe (Liesel Matthews) is the kind, caring daughter of Captain Crewe (Liam Cunningham), a wealthy British aristocrat living in India. Sara's 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 Miss Minchin's Seminary for Girls 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 gone. He has reserved her the school's largest suite, and 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. Though she finds the strict rules and harsh attitude of the headmistress stifling, Sara quickly becomes popular among the girls, including the African-American servant girl Becky (Vanessa Lee Chester), for her kindness and strong sense of imagination. She writes constant letters to her father, which are a 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 Sara a very lavish and expensive birthday party, 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 recently 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 is disappointed 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. Sara 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 assumes they somehow stole it and 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 drag her out. As the police are about to take Sara away along with Becky, Crewe suddenly regains his memory and rescues his daughter.

The next day, 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'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 working for the chimney sweeper boy she previously mistreated and enjoying his revenge on Minchin. After saying goodbye to all the girls, Sara leaves with her family to return to India.



A Little Princess
Film score by Patrick Doyle
Released May 9, 1995
Length 49:57
Label Varèse Sarabande
Patrick Doyle chronology
Exit to Eden
A Little Princess
Sense and Sensibility

All of the tracks were composed by Patrick Doyle. Three of the tracks feature soloists. The "String Quintet in C major Perger 108, MH 187" by Michael Haydn is also used in the film. The film also features the New London Children's Choir.

  1. "Ramayana: A Morning Raga" (2:03)
  2. "Children Running" (0:53)
  3. "Cristina Elisa Waltz" (3:03)
  4. "The Miss Minchin School for Girls" (1:40)
  5. "Knowing You by Heart" (2:32)
  6. "Breakfast" (0:55)
  7. "Letter to Papa" (1:38)
  8. "Angel Wings" (1:07)
  9. "False Hope" (2:05)
  10. "The Trenches" (1:00)
  11. "Crewe and the Soldier" (1:22)
  12. "Alone" (1:19)
  13. "The Attic" (2:00)
  14. "On Another's Sorrow" — Catherine Hopper (1:16)
  15. "The Shawl" (0:54)
  16. "Tyger Tyger" (0:32)
  17. "Compassion" (0:37)
  18. "For the Princess" (1:38)
  19. "Kindle My Heart" — Abigail Doyle (the daughter of the composer) (3:00)
  20. "The Locket Hunt" (3:02)
  21. "Midnight Tiptoe" (1:13)
  22. "I Am a Princess" (1:14)
  23. "Just Make Believe" (1:33)
  24. "Touched by an Angel" (1:43)
  25. "Emilia Elopes" (1:38)
  26. "The Escape" (2:58)
  27. "Papa!" (2:32)
  28. "Kindle My Heart" — Liesel Matthews (4:19)


A Little Princess 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."[5]

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." She concludes:[7]

"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. Sarah, the adored and pampered child of a wealthy British widower, must pass a series of tests, thereby discovering her inner strengths."[8]


Year Award Category Result
1995 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award Best Music
Best Production Design
Best Picture (2nd place)
New Generation Award (Alfonso Cuarón)
1996 Academy Award Best Art Direction and Set Decoration Nominated
Academy Award Best Cinematography Nominated
Young Artist Award Best Family Feature - Drama
Best Young Leading Actress - Feature Film (Vanessa Lee Chester)
Best Young Leading Actress - Feature Film (Liesel Matthews)

Home video release[edit]

A Little Princess was first released to home video in August 1995.In 1997 it was released on VHS In 2002 it was released on VHS/DVD. In 2004 it was released on DVD.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]