Snow White (2000)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop


Hallmark may not have a monopoly on dark fairy tales but they certainly film them in style. This may not be the sugar-coated fantasy flick you remember hearing as a child or watching in the old Disney cartoon. This fairy tale is told the way Grimm would tell it... with dark, sinister elements and fascinating plot twists. At the edge of the wood, in a small cottage garnished with red roses, a young woman (Vera Farmiga) awaits her husband's return. Plucking one of the roses too carelessly, a drop of her blood falls on the apple blossoms beneath the window and she envisions a child with lips as red as blood and hair as dark as ebony. The day comes when she bears this child, to the delight of her doting peasant husband. They call the child "Snow White." But something has gone wrong and Josephine falls under the everlasting spell of death. 


Her husband John (Tom Irwin), distraught but knowing he must protect his daughter, buries his wife and takes the baby away with him. Getting lost in the snow, he stumbles onto the frozen waters of the lake and sheds a tear, certain they will both perish. His tears release a jinn (or genie) from its encasement of ice and he is granted three wishes.... milk for the child, a kingdom to raise her in, and a queen to dote on them both. The genie returns to the home of his half-mortal and ugly sister Elspeth (Miranda Richardson). His desire is to give her a chance at happiness, and he bestows on her the gift of beauty, little knowing that her heart is black. He sends her to become the queen but John's love is still bound to his dead wife. Only with the power of her magic mirror, which casts a shard of glass into his eye and obscures his vision, can she gain his favor. Falling beneath her spell, his beautiful daughter falls into the background of his new obsession.

Sixteen years pass in which the child grows into a beautiful young woman (Kristen Kreuk) sadly overlooked by her father. But change is swift in coming and from foreign shores comes Prince Alfred (Tyron Leitso), hoping to seek Snow White's hand in marriage. The marriage between Elspeth and John has grown cold and one day the shard of glass falls from his eye and in turn from his heart. Does Elspeth care? No. She has set her cap at another. But her spell goes array, and instead of piercing her new conquest, adoration instead falls into the eye of the Huntsman. From here, you may believe you already know the rest of the story... but this is not your grandmother's fairy tale. Magic mirrors and scarves, poisoned apples and the seven dwarves do lie ahead... but in a way you never imagined. The dwarves are cunningly named after the days of the week, and one of them has been imprisoned as a lawn ornament for Elspeth's pleasure. Prince Alfred, fleeing from the interest of the Queen, will face a torment of his own. And what happens to a King who stumbles into the Queen's room of magic mirrors?  It's a script reeking with clever ideas, memorable dialogue, and visual delights.


This production is incredible. Artisan has gone even beyond its success with The 10th Kingdom in masterful special effects to put any Hollywood production to shame. The mirrors have the ability to transform, entrap, and distort human characters, to trap the King within glass or transform Elspeth into the likeness of John's dead wife. Then there is the snow globe into which is placed a living creature, and Snow White's coffin of ice. Makeup takes the beauty of Miranda Richardson and transforms her into a hideous old crone. The production value of this film is amazing. The costuming is gorgeous, the sets in keeping with a fairy-tale like Medieval existence, and the cinematography is breathtaking, right from the opening shot to the ending panorama. The writer/director knew what she was doing. But even gorgeously filmed as it is, you aren't going to want to plunk your little sister down in front of this one. The script is very dark and contains sinister plot twists, frightening circumstances, hideous creatures, and some psychological elements.


I consistently wavered between liking it and being a little wary of it, even with its message of not looking for outer beauty, but seeking the true nature of the heart. There is some implied violence, non-sensual kissing (Snow White's reflection bounds from the mirror and mockingly kisses her stepmother in one scene) and mild dialogue.  Elspeth also flirts several times with Prince Alfred. Viewers may not find the idea of Elspeth consuming what she believes to be Snow White's heart overly appealing. She also removes a shard of glass from her husband's heart while he sleeps. A fairy tale perhaps... but a dark one.