STUDIO: E1 Entertainment

MSRP: $19.98

RATED: Unrated

RUNNING TIME: 163 minutes


The Pitch

In this British mini-series from 1986 based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett (famed author of dainty little girl stories), a young girl goes from riches to rags at a boarding school, but with the help of her friends and her imagination, she keeps her spirits up pretending that she is a princess.

The Humans

Directed by: Carol Wiseman

Written by: Frances Hodgson Burnett (novel)

Starring: Amelia Shankley, Maureen Lipman, Nigel Havers, David Yelland, Miriam Margolyes

The Nutshell

Sara Crewe (Shankley) is the daughter of the wealthy Captain Crewe (Yelland). Sara’s mother died when she was little, and they now live in India. As is custom for girls her age in this time period, Sara must be shipped off to boarding school to finish her education in a proper atmosphere. Since Sara gets her own room and play room, a carriage, and her own personal French maid, many of the girls look down on her and think she’s too entitled and spoiled. Truth is, Sara is just your average girl. She proves this by making friends with the fat girl, Ermengarde (yes, really) and the young cockney servant girl, Becky. Unfortunately for Sara, things change when her father makes a bad investment and dies, leaving her penniless and at the mercy of the evil head mistress, Miss Minchin. Sara must now turn to a life of servitude to repay her father’s debt to the boarding school, but she’s a highly-imaginative 11 year old who, along with her friends Ermengarde and Becky, pretends to be a real princess to escape her troublesome every day life.

She only looks so happy because she just ate a child’s soul.

The Lowdown

I have a soft spot for A Little Princess. Having read the book when I was much younger, I also enjoyed the 1995 film version directed by Alfonso Cuarón. While Cuarón’s version was visually engaging and focused more on Sara’s imaginary world, it strayed from the novel quite a bit. This British mini-series version made for television sticks much closer to the original source material. The dialogue is taken straight from the text, yet it sounds incredibly organic when spoken by the talented cast. Most impressive is Amelia Shankley who plays the lead character of Sara. I looked her up and sadly, she hasn’t been in anything notable since. She has aged beautifully, though.

Maureen Lipman is also quite menacing as Miss Minchin, a woman with a penchant for child abuse (I seriously never noticed how much child abuse went on in this story until now) and all of the fashion sense of the Wicked Witch of the West/Almira Gulch. I found myself half-hoping the story would take a renegade turn with Sara lacing up some bad-ass boots and kicking that woman in the face, liberating the boarding school students and granting her BFF Ermengarde a new name. If only.

Caged Heat: The Beginning

My only real complaint lies within the special effects used, which look like someone super-imposed a Microsoft Office clip art image over the film. I know this was 1986, but I’m positive the filmmakers could have found more clever ways to express Sara’s imagination.

Still, I found this version just as engrossing as other adaptations, and although I knew the ending, I still cheered Sara on through her struggles and hardships. The series is a bit long to watch in one sitting, as I did, clocking in at almost two hours and forty minutes, but it’s nicely broken up by credits after each part and a catchy score you won’t be able to get out of your head. The transfer isn’t groundbreaking, and nothing you wouldn’t expect from most British television exports.

Miss Minchin will show you how to properly beat a child. It’s so easy, you can do it
at home in three easy steps!

The Package

The DVD menu offers subtitles and scene selection, but nothing else. Since this isn’t a wildly popular and highly-demanded series, I didn’t expect much, and what I was given was pretty straight-forward.

7.0 out of 10