It’s basically Beauty and the Beast, if the beast were Belle’s uncle.
This is not a brother/sister ship, and so it shouldn’t really be on this blog, but the truth is that I forgot that this blog was titled shipping brother/sister incest until after I published, because I have not restricted myself in that way on my tumblr. So I apologize.
The Secret of Moonacre is based on a novel from the 40’s and it’s very much in the same vein as The Secret Garden or The Secret of Roan Inish. And I’m not just saying that because it has “secret” in the title. It’s a fantasy/period (19th century) movie about Maria Merryweather (Dakota Blue Richards), who at age 13 becomes an orphan and goes to live with the reclusive, grumpy uncle she has never met, Sir Benjamin Merryweather (Ioan Gruffudd).
The Merryweathers have a centuries-long feud with another family, the De Noirs, and Moonacre valley, whether they live, is cursed. It will be destroyed if the families cannot reconcile. The curse has been waiting for a new “Moon Princess” to arrive (the other characters from when the curse/feud was established are also loosely reincarnated), and to find the magic pearls that sparked the feud and return them to the sea. The plot’s really a bunch of nonsense but not in a way that really matters. Visually it’s a very lovely film.And obviously I’m here for the Bejamin/Maria relationship so I’ll move on to that quickly.
After a nasty broken engagement with a woman named Loveday (an iteration of the original Moon Princess who received the pearls and cursed the valley after her fiance and father fought over them), who turned out to be a De Noir, Benjamin has a very low opinion of company of any kind, but especially the female kind. He takes Maria in out of familial duty but has very little interest in connecting with her.This leads to a lot of tension between them. Maria is a little frightened and a little furious about the cold reception and lack of sympathy. She’s quick to defend her father (who died in debt), and Benjamin is very insensitive about her loss and insulting towards his dead brother. Maria at first does not think much of the country and misses the city; Benjamin is definitely a country type. The enchanting house is full of small enchantments but Benjamin will explain nothing. The only thing Maria’s father left to her was a book telling the Moonacre story, and Benjamin takes it away from her. The De Noirs live as bandits in the forest, and Maria does not heed her uncle’s warnings to stay away. In Maria’s first experience being attacked by the bandits Benjamin shuts down all of her curious questions and acts as if nothing at all had happened. In her second encounter, which was rather frightening experience for her, he only yells at her for her disobedience.
So there’s a lot of conflict between them and a lot of tension.His personality and his history are an important part of that. He shuts everyone out. All he wants to do is be alone and drink, pretty much. He doesn’t want to feel anything for her. Even when he comes to care about her deeply, he’s still very awkward about showing his feelings.
But you also get to see Benjamin softening eventually. He takes Maria riding, and insists that she must learn how to ride because she is a Merryweather. He’s worried when she goes missing, and only yells at her because of how worried he was. After their big fight when she returns, he goes to apologize to her and tells her that he’s glad she has returned. She is reluctant to forgive him but when he says that she melts.
Maria has to sacrifice herself in order to end the curse. When she is returned, Benjamin hugs her for the first time and he’s so uncomfortable with being open about his love, it’s adorable and she thinks so too. There’s a lot going on in the movie besides this relationship. Loveday, Benjamin’s ex-fiancee, has been living in a cave ever since he cast her off when he found out she had secretly been a De Noir. Maria makes friends with her, and then pulls a parent trap on them to try and get them back together, and it works. Loveday has a brother, Robin De Noir, who is Maria’s love interest. (Their love interests are in the same generation!) The two canon love stories are decent, all things said. I couldn’t honestly call either relationship a notp, though they don’t compare to Benjamin/Maria.
In the curse-origin story, the moon princess was going to marry Benjamin’s ancestor, but when he and her father fought over the pearls, she cursed Moonacre Valley. (Way to overreact, princess!)
When you touch the pearls it forces you to reveal your true thoughts, and both of them were thinking about power and wealth and rivalry with the other. In the present narrative, the same cast of characters are there, except Maria is the moon princess. So in a way she’s actually playing Benjamin’s love interest’s role, even though Loveday exists. What’s also interesting is that in the origins story, Benjamin’s counterpart values the pearls over his fiancées’ happiness so much so that the moon princess decides not to marry him. In the present, Benjamin rejects Loveday because she is a De Noir. It doesn’t sound like he really loves her all that much, does it? It’s like if Juliet had called out for her father and Tybalt to come the second she found out that Romeo was a Montague. Benjamin was paranoid about Loveday and believed she was a spy and had come to get the pearls from him. The broken engagement obviously turned him into a Havisham-like creature but it’s my belief that he was already inclined to be that kind of person and that breaking off his engagement with Loveday was more a symptom of his own tendencies rather than the cause of it all.
I also want to point out how much pride Benjamin has in his family. He’s living as master in the ancestral home. He takes Maria in because she is a Merryweather, and gives her a pony and takes her out riding because it’s what Merryweathers do. He tells her that his dog “very probably” won’t harm her because she’s a Merryweather, as if it were some excellent trait that even a dog could sense. He rejects Loveday because she’s from the wrong family. I can imagine him deciding Merryweathers are a little bit better than everyone else so maybe he should just marry a Merryweather instead of trying to find someone else.So I mentioned the Beauty and the Beast comparison. She comes to stay with him against his will. He doesn’t particularly want her there either. The house is full of magic that he knows about but won’t explain. He’s got a temper and gets angry with her and frightens her, but is also very hospitable. (Although, lol, Beast wants Belle to eat with him and Benjamin would be happy if he never had to share a meal with another woman ever.) And then she eventually teaches him to love again and breaks the curse over his house. IT’S EXACTLY THE SAME.When the Moon Princess was going to marry Benjamin’s ancestor, her father gifted the couple a black lion, and Benjamin’s ancestor gave a white unicorn to the union. The white unicorn is Maria’s pony (which Benjamin gives to her), and the black lion takes the form in the present narrative of Benjamin’s fierce dog Wrolf. Maria is scared of Wrolf when she first meets him (although in the pic above he just looks like a big fuzzy puppy), and he barks and growls at her. Benjamin, in a not reassuring way at all, tells her that Wrolf probably wouldn’t hurt her because she’s a Merryweather. Well, Wrolf ends up becoming her guardian and saves her twice, giving his life the second time. (Don’t worry, the dog doesn’t stay dead. Very important info, I know.) I just really love that Benjamin spends most of his time with this mean dog that scares everybody, but then the dog takes Maria under his wing and protects her.It’s the white unicorn that ends up bringing Maria back after she saves herself. Both the wedding gifts end up being very much about Maria.The Secret of Moonacre is based upon a book called The Little White Horse. In the book, Benjamin is Maria’s cousin. I wonder if the moviemakers wanted it to be her uncle all along, or if they just ended up casting some older people for Benjamin and Loveday and decided to make him her uncle. During that time period, it would have been perfectly acceptable for Maria to marry her cousin. But the book was written in the 40’s, so the author didn’t necessarily feel that way.
The Wikipedia article about the book says this in the plot summary:
Her cousin and guardian Sir Benjamin Merryweather is one of the “sun” Merryweathers, and she loves him right away, as sun and moon Merryweathers do.
There’s nothing about sun vs. moon Merryweathers in the movie, and Maria certainly didn’t love him right away, so I’m guessing the book is quite different in a number of respects. I might read it. Anyway, sounds romantic, no? Sun and moon yin yang. That’s the kind of thing that I love.
There’s nothing left for me to do but present screencaps that tell an even better story than the movie did.
Breakfast banter: Post-banter depression: Piano romance part I: Piano romance part II: I’ve adopted a baby, I just thought you should know. Say hello to Jr.: I can’t deel with the feelz: There will be no capris in this house, young lady! Merryweathers are fashionable!: Drunken regrets:
(No joke, this is him after their big fight. Sitting by the window, drinking. Looking sad. It looks like it’s raining but I don’t think it actually is, unfortunately.)
Drunken apologies: All is forgiven and then some: Oh, I think I dozed off. I didn’t miss anything, did I?: Full hug presented in all its glory: It started off a little goofy but…YOU SEE THESE CAPS RIGHT?
(She looks so much like Joanne Whalley in Willow. If you’ve read my old Borgias write-up then you know that Joanne Whalley in Willow is my everything. That would make a great fancast for older!Maria.)
And we cannot leave off without Maria telling her uncle that Wrolf is now a lion:
I wish Maria had been a little bit older (well, obviously), but at least she wasn’t younger. If she had been 10 or so that would be a really long time to wait. If I was thinking up a total AU, then I would do away with the love interests, have Maria be two or three years older, and then make the process of her and Benjamin warming up to each other last and her ending the curse last for a year or two or more. Maria would be the reincarnation of the moon princess, no Loveday at all. But in terms of canon-compliant, I would have Benjamin and Loveday’s marriage be kind of a disaster because they’re not the same people anymore and they love each other but not in a functional marriage sort of way, and Benjamin doesn’t approve of Robin at all and doesn’t want Maria to have anything to do with him, and as Maria gets older she realizes that she’s much more interested in her uncle than she should be.
You can watch The Secret of Moonacre on youtube here. (For now.)