What a Girl Wants (film)

What a Girl Wants is a 2003 American teen comedy film directed by Dennie Gordon and written by Jenny Bicks and Elizabeth Chandler. Based on the 1955 play The Reluctant Debutante by William Douglas-Home,[2] it is the second adaptation for the screen of this work. It stars Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, and Kelly Preston. The film was released on April 4, 2003, received mixed reviews and grossed $50 million worldwide.

What a Girl Wants
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byDennie Gordon
Produced by
Written by
Based onThe Reluctant Debutante
by William Douglas-Home
Music byRupert Gregson-Williams
CinematographyAndrew Dunn
Edited byCharles McClelland
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • April 4, 2003 (2003-04-04)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[1]
Box office$50.7 million[1]


Daphne Reynolds lives a comfortable but unsatisfying life as a young American girl with a bright future. She has never met her father. She lives with her single mother, Libby, above a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, New York City. Believing it to be in his best interest, her mother had left Daphne's father seventeen years earlier after a Bedouin wedding ceremony (of uncertain legality) in north Africa, because of his family's disapproval of their relationship; she is thrown out of the house by his father's manager, without giving Libby a chance to tell Henry that she is pregnant with their daughter.

The story flashes forward. Daphne has just turned 17, graduated from high school and applied for colleges when she flies to London to get to know her father. Her father, Lord Henry Dashwood, has recently inherited an earldom but has disclaimed his seat in the House of Lords to run for election to the House of Commons, hoping eventually to become Prime Minister, with the backing of Alistair Payne, his fiancée's father and political advisor. At a hotel, Daphne meets Ian Wallace, a local boy. She notices Lord Henry Dashwood on television during a news broadcast, and tells Ian that the politician is her father.

When Henry is informed of his daughter's existence, he embraces the opportunity to connect with her at the urging of his mother, Jocelyn. Her appearance causes a controversy that endangers his political ambitions. Daphne tries to win the acceptance of her father's social circle but is repeatedly thwarted by his snobby, gold-digging fiancée, Glynnis Payne, and her equally snobby daughter, Clarissa.

In addition, Daphne has to ward off the advances of Armistead Stewart, a sleazy and arrogant upper-class boy whom Clarissa fancies. In the end, Daphne ends up throwing him into the Thames at the Henley Regatta when he tries to kiss her.

After Daphne's behavior (and Henry's subsequent misbehavior with her) catches the public eye, Henry's political campaign suffers. He reminds her of the Dashwood lineage and asks her to assume a more dignified manner. To please her father and his social circle, she abandons her old style and dons an upper-class sophisticated look; it is subsequently noted in the British newspapers that Henry's polling is rising.

Ian is disappointed, however, due to Daphne not being true to herself. He leaves when she forgets to go to a concert with him, as they had planned, in favor of attending an upper-class social function. During the coming-out party hosted by her father, she overhears Alastair talking to Glynnis about having "got rid of" Daphne's mother seventeen years ago, and how he thought he would have to do the same thing with Daphne. Daphne tries to confront him, but Glynnis grabs Daphne and locks her in another room. Glynnis then hurriedly asks the band's lead singer, who happens to be Ian, to announce the father–daughter dance, knowing that Daphne is locked up; she uses this as a ploy to get Henry to dance with Clarissa, instead. Libby rescues Daphne, but it is too late; Daphne witnesses Henry dancing with Clarissa, and rejects her new self because it is not who she is. She returns to America and resumes working as a waitress. Henry announces in an election press conference that he has chosen not to continue pursuing his political career. On his way out of the press conference, he discovers that Alastair knew about Libby's pregnancy and had manipulated their separation, seventeen years earlier. Henry punches Alastair in the face for concealing Daphne's existence. He then breaks off his engagement to Glynnis.

Daphne is serving as a caterer at a wedding in America while resuming her application to NYU as the traditional father–daughter dance begins. She wistfully thinks of Henry and what she left behind... and just then, Henry shows up, having taken a flight from London. When Daphne asks him what he's doing there, Henry declares that, on the plane, he had written down, "at least two hundred times," what he wanted to tell her; he fumbles, unable to find his written speech. So he extemporizes, telling her simply that he loves her for who she is and "wouldn't change one hair on [her] head". Daphne, overjoyed, accepts his love and, instead of calling him Henry, refers to him as "Dad".

She finally gets the father–daughter dance she has been longing for her whole life, while Libby watches. Realizing that he still loves Libby, Henry informs Daphne that he has "a rather large present" for her—in the person of Ian, whom he has brought with him. Ian steps up and cuts in. As he and Daphne dance, Henry rejoins Libby. He apologizes to her; Libby accepts his apology and they kiss.

In the epilogue, Glynnis gets married to a wealthy nobleman and Clarissa marries Armistead (who still has a wandering eye). Alastair has become a tour guide in London. Libby and Henry are married in a Bedouin ceremony; this time they make sure it is legal and binding. Daphne is accepted into Oxford. As the credits begin to roll, Daphne, Ian, Henry, Libby, Jocelyn and Percy (the butler) sit down to a family meal on the grounds of Dashwood Manor.


  • Amanda Bynes as Daphne Reynolds, the daughter of Henry Dashwood and Libby Reynolds.
    • Soleil McGhee as Young Daphne.
    • Ella Desmond Oakley as Baby Daphne.
  • Colin Firth as Lord Henry Dashwood, the Earl of Wycombe and Daphne's long-lost father.
  • Kelly Preston as Libby Reynolds, Daphne's mother who works as a wedding singer.
  • Oliver James as Ian Wallace, Daphne's love interest in London.
  • Eileen Atkins as Jocelyn Dashwood, the Dowager Countess of Wycombe who is Henry's mother and Daphne's long-lost grandmother.
  • Jonathan Pryce as Alistair Payne, Henry's manager who is the father of Glynnis Payne and the grandfather of Clarissa Payne.
  • Anna Chancellor as Glynnis Payne, the gold-digging daughter of Alistair Payne, the mother of Clarissa Payne, and the fiancée of Henry.
  • Christina Cole as Clarissa Payne, the daughter of Glynnis Payne and the granddaughter of Alistair Payne.
  • Sylvia Syms as Princess Charlotte.
  • James Greene as Percy, Henry and Jocelyn's butler.
  • Tara Summers as Noelle.
  • Ben Scholfield as Armistead Stuart, a sleezy upperclass boy with a wandering eye.
  • Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Lord Orwood, the father of Peach and Pear Orwood.
  • Cassie Powney as The Hon. Peach Orwood, the twin sister of Pear Orwood.
  • Connie Powney as The Hon. Pear Orwood, the twin sister of Peach Orwood.
  • Peter Reeves as Sir John Dashwood.
  • Peter Hugo as Prince Charles.
  • Matthew Turpin as Prince William.
  • Chris Castle as Prince Harry.
  • Stephanie Lane as Fiona.
  • Elizabeth Richard as Queen Elizabeth II.


Critical responseEdit

What a Girl Wants received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 35% based on 104 reviews, with an average rating of 5.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Little girls will definitely enjoy it, but it's too syrupy and predictable for adults."[3] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 41 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[4] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "A" on scale of A to F.[5]

Edward Guthmann of The San Francisco Chronicle called it a "dreadful teen comedy."[6] Anya Kamenetz of The Village Voice described the film as "a sanitized adventure for the Mary Kate-and-Ashley set."[7]

Box officeEdit

In its opening weekend, the film grossed $11.4 million in 2,964 theaters in the United States and Canada, ranking #2 at the box office behind fellow newcomer Phone Booth ($15 million). By the end of its run, the film had grossed $36.1 million domestically and $14.6 million internationally, totaling $50.7 million worldwide.[1]


Before the US release of the film, print advertisements were altered to remove the peace sign that Bynes was giving in the poster. A rep for Warner Bros. explained "'In a time of war, we made a slight alteration so that we could avoid any potential political statement in a completely nonpolitical film."[8]


  1. ^ a b c "What a Girl Wants (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
  2. ^ First line of closing credits: based on the play "The Reluctant Debutante" by WILLIAM DOUGLAS HOME (sic)
  3. ^ "What a Girl Wants". Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  4. ^ "What A Girl Wants Reviews-Metacritic". Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  5. ^ "Cinemascore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  6. ^ Guthman, Edward (April 4, 2003). "Film Clips". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  7. ^ Kamenetz, Anya (April 8, 2003). "Film". The Village Voice. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  8. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (April 11, 2003). "Sign of the Times". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 27, 2014.

External linksEdit