Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Nonso Anozie, Derek Jacobi
Written by: Chris Weitz
Running Time: 105 mins
Release date: 27th March 2015
Who would have thought it? Who would have thought that a cynical, middle-aged film critic would be so utterly charmed by a live action version of a classic fairy tale? I went into Cinderella with a stern face and, to be honest, not looking forward to it. I came out with an enormous grin and a heart that had melted. It is a delight.
Ella is a young girl who is adored by her parents. On her deathbed, her mother tells her to have courage and be kind, a mantra that she lives by as she grows up. Years later, Ella’s father remarries, bringing with her two stepsister and a change of mood, treating Ella like a slave. While Ella is out riding, she meets Kip, who turns out to be the Prince and so besotted by her, the Prince holds a ball in order to find her. Only Ella’s Stepmother doesn’t want her to go.
The first thing that is so remarkable about this film is the decision to play the whole thing straight. Unlike other recent fairy tales that have been deconstructed, like Maleficent and Into The Woods, Cinderella goes for traditional, telling the story just as we remember from the Disney 1950 animated classic. It doesn’t rely of being revisionist, doesn’t change the time period and setting,it even has the mice.
Director Kenneth Branagh and writer Chris Weitz know exactly what they are doing with the story. The dialogue is crisp and appropriate for the period, never veering into modernism. The look of the film is absolutely scrumptious. Dante Ferretti’s production design is magnificent, especially during the luscious ballroom scene, a magical visual treat with huge chandeliers and massive dance floor. Mixed with Sandy Powell’s beautiful, colourful costumes, the whole thing takes you to a different world, that of pure, innocent magic. Along with that, Patrick Doyle’s terrific score that never intrudes but enhances the action.
The cast play the whole thing completely straight, with never a sense of irony or knowing winks to the camera. You believe that they believe. Helena Bonham Carter almost steals the film as the Fairy Godmother, with a magical scene in which transformations happen all over the place. Richard Madden is perfectly dashing as the Prince, with some nice moments along side Derek Jacobi as the King.
Cate Blanchett, as the evil stepmother, adds a whole new dimension to her character. With 40’s style film noir femme fatale, she is no longer just an evil woman but a woman with a motive, as she explains in a well-placed scene that makes us understand why she is what she is. Blanchett is well suited for the role, as she can do more with a glance than most can do with a whole page of dialogue. The sisters, played by Holliday Granger and Sophie McShera, are the weakest link in the film, coming across more pantomime than honest and they do look slightly out-of-place compared to the other performers.
Finally there’s Lily James. The young Downton Abbey star is utterly captivating as Cinders. She beams throughout with a smile that lights up the screen. She conveys honesty, innocence and kindness with very little effort and unlike the original Cinders, this is the only revisionist area of the film, that Cinders is no longer just a put-upon girl. It’s a star making performance and one that elevates the Cinderella we know from the cartoon, to that of an independent woman who, regardless of her rough upbringing in the hands of her stepmother, is strong enough to stand up to her too.
Cinderella is one of those rare things: a remake that works just as well as the original. It also allows the young to be enchanted by a story that seems fresh, even though everyone knows it, while the young at heart can be reminded of how they use to make movies. A magical journey I never expected to like but was completely drawn into. Lovely.
As a side note: the film comes with a new short, Frozen Fever, based on Disney biggest hit in years. A delightful musical story in 10 minutes that, even though relies on just one joke, is the perfect starter.