When Emma Watson was cast as Belle in Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, fans seemed to immediately approve. After all, Watson has proven to be just as strong and thoughtful in real life as both Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger and the Disney heroine.
Now the actress is speaking out to address some of the more controversial story elements which have plagued the “tale as old as time” in the years since its original 1991 release.
Some critics have taken the animated Beauty and the Beast to task for the way in which Belle and the Beast’s relationship develops over the course of the film. Fans may recall how the Beast holds Belle hostage for an extended period of time, leading some to believe her eventual feelings for him are more the result of the psychological condition known as Stockholm syndrome than any true emotional connection.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Watson directly addresses the long-standing controversy over the romance of Beauty and the Beast, revealing how she sees the relationship between the two characters.
“It’s such a good question and it’s something I really grappled with at the beginning; the kind of Stockholm syndrome question about this story. That’s where a prisoner will take on the characteristics of and fall in love with the captor. Belle actively argues and disagrees with (Beast) constantly. She has none of the characteristics of someone with Stockholm syndrome because she keeps her independence. She keeps that freedom of thought.
“I think there is a very intentional switch where in my mind Belle decides to stay. She’s giving him hell. There is no sense of, ‘I need to kill this guy with kindness.’
“In fact, she gives as good as she gets. He bangs on the door, she bangs back. There’s this defiance that ‘You think I’m going to come and eat dinner with you and I’m your prisoner — absolutely not.’ I think that’s the other beautiful thing about the love story. They form a friendship first and that gap in the middle where there is this genuine sharing, the love builds out of that, which in many ways I actually think is more meaningful than a lot of love stories, where it was love at first sight.
“Beast and Belle begin their love story really irritating each other and really not liking each other very much. They build a friendship, slowly, slowly, slowly, and very slowly that builds to them falling in love. They are having no illusions about who the other one is. They have seen the worst of one another, and they also bring out the best.”
Watson’s rationale may be enough to convince some longtime fans, but it will be interesting for some fans thinking about this to see if this new version of Beauty and the Beast has taken steps to downplay the Stockholm syndrome interpretation of the central love story.
Part of what makes Disney’s current string of live-action remakes worthwhile is how it gives the studio a chance to update and improve some of its greatest stories for a new generation. For instance, both Cinderella and The Jungle Book took vastly different approaches to the character arcs of Cinderella and Mowgli, making them more complex and active characters than they ever were before.
With Watson in the role, it’s likely Dreamgirls director Bill Condon and screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos have designed her version of Belle to be even more fiercely independent and strong-willed than her animated counterpart. We already know that Belle – not her father – will be the inventor in the family in this version. So it isn’t a tremendous leap to think the film will do everything it can to sidestep the Stockholm syndrome controversy.
We’ll find out for sure when Disney’s Beauty and the Beast arrives in theaters on March 17.
Robert Yaniz Jr.
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