We are accustomed to watch movies that characterized the stepmother as evil, vain, with somber magic powers, and totally opposed to the dead mother that is idealized as almost a saint, gentle, kind and lovely women. Some clear examples could be Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and also Cinderella from Disney. The stepmothers in these two movies are the vivid stereotype: they’re extremely vain, they only think about themselves, and are even capable of killing to be “the fairest of all”.
In the movie Snow White: a Tale of Terror this labeled perspective takes a little turn. The villain Lady Claudia is not merely an evil stepmother; she is also an oppressed woman. From one side she is secretly a pagan in a Christian society, and also a stepmother, which have always been stereotyped as bad and hated by their stepsons. For instance, in Cinderella at the beginning the narrator clearly describes the stepmother: “Cold, cruel, and visibly jealous of Cinderella’s charm and beauty.” They didn’t even let the spectator to make their own judgment, they just tell you from the beginning. In contrast Snow White: a Tale of Terror, portraits the stepmother at the beginning as a kind and sweet woman and, as you see the movie, you can make your own judgment.
At the beginning the newcomer and future queen, Lady Claudia, seems like a “good” woman that is in love with the king and wants to win the love of Lilli, the daughter of her future husband. The first step she takes is to bring a puppy as a gift for Lilli and it worked because she gets very happy with her doggy. Later in the film some things make Lilli grow suspicious about Lady Claudia, for example, when Lilli caught her father and Claudia kissing in a corridor she directs a challenging glance at Lilli. Another controversial scene that could cause this distrust in Lilli is when her nanny drops dead after looking at Claudia’s mirror.
As time passes we can see that the attitude from Claudia towards Lilli is one of sympathy. For example, Claudia offers Lilli a dress for a party they’re going to have that night: “Lilli, I have a dress for you to try on, for tonight” and Lilli replies that she doesn’t know if she’s going to wear it, then Claudia says: “Why not, it’s very pretty, you see, it’s lovely”. Claudia seems authentically kind with Lilli, but Lilli is not very sympathetic because the tone of her voice is one of contempt and annoyance. Then at the party Lilli wears the gown of her mother captivating the attention of the people and of course of his father that says “you look so like her”, referring to Lilli’s mother, all this occurs while Lady Claudia is singing and all the looks go from her to Lilli. This event causes a crisis in Claudia, who feels humiliated and replaced by Lilli, her pride is hurt and her emotion is so strong that she losses her baby. This is the straw that broke the glass for Claudia. The kind and sweet stepmother is gone and the witch takes over. In Snow White (Disney version) the stepmother wants Snow White dead just because the mirror said she is prettier than her, but in this case the mad witch appears after long years of patience towards the spoiled stepdaughter Lilli.
The religious aspect is very important also. There are many scenes that tell us about the religious beliefs of Lady Claudia. One of them is when she wonders if her mother would be angry “knowing that the world that so despise her, has embrace me”. We can infer that her mother was a witch also and living in a time when the “good” Christians burned the witches to “purify” their souls, this could be the reason that the world despised her mother and now she is pretending to be one of them in order to survive and to live with the man she loves who, by the way, is a devote Christian. Another scene that gives us a clue about Claudia’s beliefs is when she is talking to her unborn baby in front of the mirror. She mentions that she consulted the runes in order to get pregnant. The practice of consulting the runes has its origins in a Nordic tradition; they are magic elements carriers of secrets. This practice was viewed as heresy, as part of a pagan tradition.
As we can see Claudia isn’t a rebel without cause, she isn’t just the devilish stepmother. Lady Claudia is a woman struggling for a space, fighting for acceptance. We can’t ignore that after she gets mad her obsession with killing Lilli isn’t acceptable but we also can’t ignore the causes of her loss of control. Even when, at the end Lilli is victorious and kills Claudia and once again the witch stepmother is defeated by the beautiful and white as snow princess, is good to watch the rupture of some stereotypes that had been inculcated in our culture since we are just children with movies as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella from Disney.