“Wouldn’t you prefer to eat when all the work is done, Ella?” asks Lady Tremaine. Ella replies, “Yes, stepmother.” Lady Tremaine responds, “You needn’t call me that. Madam will do.”
With the recent live action adaptations of certain fairy tales, I’d grown worried that these films would start giving fairy tales a bad reputation. Neither Snow White film from 2012 was good (Relativity’s Mirror Mirror looked too silly while Universal’s Snow White and the Huntsman looked too dark, serious, and directionless). Last year’s Maleficent focused on the villainess from Sleeping Beauty, but this bland offering from Disney was made watchable only by Angelina Jolie’s performance in the title role. These films tried for a more revisionist approach to their stories but failed to be good films. The next fairy tale to receive the live action treatment was Cinderella (also from Disney). I saw Cinderella recently on the big screen, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it (yes, I was aware of its critical acclaim). What surprised me even more was that the film was directed by none other than Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Hamlet, Thor).
2015’s Cinderella follows a young woman as she struggles to deal with her overbearing stepmother and stepsisters while a chance encounter with the royal prince might turn things around for her. Branagh gathered a wonderful ensemble that includes Lily James (as Ella), Cate Balnchett (as Lady Tremaine), Richard Madden (as Kit), Helena Bonham Carter (as the Fairy Godmother), Stellan Skarsgard (as the Grand Duke), Derek Jacobi (as the King), Hayley Atwell (as Cinderella’s mother), Holliday Grainger (as Anastasia Tremaine), Sophie McShera (as Drisella Tremaine), Nonso Anozie (as the Captain), Ben Chaplin (as Cinderella’s father), and Rob Brydon (as Master Phineus). James is a delight as Cinderella; she brings warmth and charm to the role. Blanchett is icy and cruel as Cinderella’s stepmother without going over-the-top. Madden and Jacobi are quite good as the prince and the king, respectively. James and Madden display great chemistry and make for an appealing couple. Atwell and Chaplin also shine as Cinderella’s mother and father.
Branagh’s direction is strong, as is Chris Weitz’s screenplay, which, rather than using a revisionist approach, smartly focuses on the backstory that helps shape the events in the film, drawing influence from the Charles Perrault version of the fairy tale as well as the 1950 Disney animated classic film (quite heavily, which was quite all right). The prince is a much more multi-dimensional character than expected, and the relationship between him and the king is one of the highlights of the film (despite its brevity overall). Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography is beautifully top-notch, as is Dante Ferretti’s production design (I loved the ballroom set) and Sandy Powell’s gorgeous costume designs (there’s a great number of period costumes, but the most impressive would have to be Cinderella’s blue dress for the ball). Naomi Donne’s makeup design is very excellent (including the work on the Fairy Godmother’s initial appearance to Cinderella), and Martin Walsh’s editing gives the film a good pace. Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is a refreshing take on the famous fairy tale that is enjoyable for audiences of all ages (male and female). Don’t miss out on this film!