A Little Princess (1995 film)

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A Little Princess
Theatrical re-release poster
Directed byAlfonso Cuarón
Screenplay byRichard LaGravenese
Elizabeth Chandler
Based onA Little Princess
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Produced byMark Johnson
CinematographyEmmanuel Lubezki
Edited bySteven Weisberg
Music byPatrick Doyle
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • May 10, 1995 (1995-05-10)
Running time
97 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$17 million
Box office$10 million[2]

A Little Princess is a 1995 American family drama film directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Eleanor Bron, Liam Cunningham (in a dual role), and introducing Liesel Matthews as Sara Crewe with supporting roles by Vanessa Lee Chester, Rusty Schwimmer, Arthur Malet, and Errol Sitahal. The movie was distributed by Warner Bros. through their Warner Bros. Family Entertainment label.

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 1905 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.

Although not a box office success, the film was critically acclaimed and given various awards, such as two Oscar nominations for its significant achievements in art direction and cinematography, among other aspects of its production.


Sara Crewe (Liesel Matthews) is the sweet daughter of Captain Richard Crewe (Liam Cunningham), a wealthy and honest aristocrat living in India. Sara's mother died along with her baby sister 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 Army as an officer in World War I. Richard puts Sara in an all-girls' boarding school in New York City and instructs the arrogant and cynical headmistress Miss Maria 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 and gives Sara a special locket of her mother's picture, and a 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 Miss Minchin's harsh attitude stifling, Sara becomes popular among the girls, including the scullery maid Becky (Vanessa Lee Chester), for her kindness and powerful sense of imagination.

Due to a body being misidentified, Richard is wrongfully pronounced dead when he is actually seriously injured and amnesiac, while the British government takes his company and assets, putting Richard and Sara in debt. When Miss Minchin hears the news, she is in the middle of throwing a lavish birthday party for Sara, hoping to extort more money from her father. When Richard'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 to the attic with Becky to work as a servant where she will report to the cook Mabel (Peggy Miley) at 5 a.m. Miss Minchin also confiscates all of Sara's personal belongings, including her locket, as compensation for her financial losses, leaving her with only Emily and a book.

Meanwhile, the elderly neighbor Charles Randolph (Arthur Malet) has received word that his son John, who is 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 wise 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 play a chimney prank on Miss Minchin after she reprimands a young chimney sweep boy (Jonás Cuarón). Sara even shows sympathy toward Miss Minchin's sister Amelia (Rusty Schwimmer). Ram Dass, who lives in the attic of the Randolph house, is brought to notice Sara and Becky by the household's monkey and hears Sara telling imaginative stories to Becky. He mentions the girls to his employer, saying he would like to make some of their imaginings come true.

When the girls later sneak up to visit Sara and are caught by Miss Minchin, Sara protects her friends by saying she invited them. As punishment, Miss Minchin locks Becky in 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. She even taunts Sara over believing she is still a princess. Sara, having had enough of Miss Minchin's cruelty, stands up to the latter, saying that all girls (including herself) are princesses despite how miserable their lives can be. Angered, Miss Minchin warns Sara that she'll be thrown out on the streets, should she be seen with the girls again. To distract them from their hunger, Sara and Becky imagine a huge banquet, with themselves warmly and attractively dressed, and a pleasant fire burning in the grate. The next day, they wake to find the dream has come true, all having secretly been brought over by Ram Dass.

Later that night, Amelia sneaks out of the school and runs off with the milkman. When Miss Minchin notices Sara's locket is missing (having been stolen back by the other girls as a gift to Sara), she goes to Sara's room and confronts her. After she discovers all the finery left by Ram Dass, an increasingly irate Miss Minchin accuses Sara of stealing everything and summons the police. With Becky's help, Sara narrowly avoids arrest by perilously climbing over to the Randolph house. Having failed to catch Sara, Miss Minchin insists the police arrest Becky for interfering with them. While hiding from the police, Sara comes across the soldier and realizes he is her father. Richard, though sympathetic to Sara, does not recognize her at all. As she tries to make him remember, Miss Minchin and the police arrive with Ram Dass and Mr. Randolph. Though Miss Minchin clearly recognizes Richard, she lies that Sara has no father and commands the police officers to seize her, choosing vengeance over the truth. As the police are about to take Sara away along with Becky, Richard suddenly regains his memory with help from Ram Dass and rescues his daughter. Miss Minchin angrily walks away in defeat in the rain.

Sometime later, Richard has 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. Richard tells Mr. Randolph that John died in a gas attack, giving the man closure. As retribution for her perfidy and cruelty to Sara and Becky, Miss Minchin loses her current title and high position and is reduced to a chimney sweeper, now working for the chimney sweeper boy she previously mistreated (who appears to be enjoying his revenge on Minchin). The film closes with Sara and Becky waving farewell to their former classmates as their carriage departs from the school and the family begins their return to India.


  • Liesel Matthews as Sara Crewe, the sweet, kind and caring daughter of Captain Richard Crewe.
  • Eleanor Bron as Miss Maria Minchin, a cynical, cruel, greedy and heartless woman who runs a boarding school where Sara is enrolled. She is Amelia's older sister.
  • Liam Cunningham as Captain Richard Crewe, Sara's loving devoted widower father.
    • Liam Cunningham also portrays Prince Rama, a character from Sara's story.
  • Vanessa Lee Chester as Becky, Miss Minchin's servant who lives in the attic of the school.
  • Taylor Fry as Lavinia, a vindictive bully who is bitterly jealous of Sara's wealth and popularity.
  • Heather DeLoach as Ermengarde, a shy, insecure girl often bullied by Lavinia and Miss Minchin.
  • Kelsey Mulrooney as Lottie, a volatile girl at Sara's school prone to tantrums and fits.
  • Rusty Schwimmer as Amelia Minchin, 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 wise servant who later befriends Sara.
  • Camilla Belle as Jane, Sara's schoolmate
  • Rachael Bella as Betsy, Sara's schoolmate
  • Kaitlin Cullum as Ruth, Sara's schoolmate
  • Lauren Blumenfeld as Rosemary, Sara's schoolmate
  • Darcie Bradford as Jesse, Sara's schoolmate
  • Alexandra Rea-Baum as Gertrude, Sara's schoolmate
  • Jonás Cuarón as Jim, the chimney sweep
  • Ken Palmer as John Randolph
  • Vincent Schiavelli as Mr. Barrow
  • Peggy Miley as Mabel, a cook who works for Miss Minchin.
  • Time Winters as Frances, the milkman and Amelia's romantic interest
  • Lomax Study as Monsieur Dufarge, a French teacher at Miss Minchin's school
  • Alison Moir as Princess Sita, a character from Sara's story.


A Little Princess
Film score by
ReleasedMay 9, 1995
LabelVarèse 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 received critical acclaim upon its release. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a rating of 97% based on 36 reviews with an average rating of 8.2/10. The site's critical consensus states, "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."[3]

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:[4]

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 [sic] 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 Spoiled and pampered child of a wealthy British widower, must pass a series of tests, thereby discovering her inner strengths."[5]


Award Category Recipient Result
Academy Award Best Art Direction Bo Welch and Cheryl Carasik Nominated
Best Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award Best Picture 2nd place
Best Production Design Bo Welch Won
Best Music Patrick Doyle Won
New Generation Award Alfonso Cuarón Won
Young Artist Award Best Family Feature - Drama Nominated
Best Young Leading Actress Vanessa Lee Chester Nominated
Liesel Matthews Nominated

Home video release[edit]

A Little Princess was much more successful in the home video market than in theaters. As of April 1997 Warner Bros. sold two million copies for an estimated $32 million in video revenue—the studio receiving 75%—greatly exceeding box office gross.[6] The film was first released on VHS and LaserDisc on September 19, 1995 and was first released on DVD on November 19, 1997.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A LITTLE PRINCESS (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 1995-09-14. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  2. ^ A Little Princess at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ A Little Princess at Rotten Tomatoes
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet (May 10, 1995). "Fairy Tale Doing a Child's Job: Reveling in Exuberant Play". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-03-01.
  5. ^ Kempley, Rita (May 19, 1995). "'A Little Princess' (G)". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-03-01.
  6. ^ Matzer, Marla (1997-04-16). "Direct-to-Video Family Films Are Hitting Home". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 June 2011.

External links[edit]