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With the new live-action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast hitting screens on March 17, the debate over whether Belle is trapped in an abusive relationship with Beast has been reignited.

Emma Watson, who stars as the bookish heroine, said it’s a concern she studied before signing on. In her interview with Entertainment Weekly for our new cover story, she said she doesn’t think the criticism fits — at least not this version of the age-old folk tale.

“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,” she says. “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.”

Belle is literally imprisoned by the monster early at the film, a sacrifice she willingly makes to spare her father. But Watson points out that the heroine fights back and tries relentlessly to escape. Only after Beast demonstrates a buried decency and unexpected kindness on his own does Belle begin to change her mind about him.

Watch the full interview with Emma Watson here, on the new PEOPLE/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN), or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

Credit: Disney

“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,'” Watson says.

For more on this week’s cover story, watch EW The Show, available now here, on the new PEOPLE/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

Her view is that Belle is never under the delusion that she deserves bad treatment.

“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,'” Watson says. “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.”

It’s actually dislike 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,” she says. “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.”

For more this week on Beauty and the Beast, follow @Breznican.

Episode Recaps

Beauty and the Beast (TV Series)
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