CINDERELLA (USA/PG/113mins)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger,
Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Helena Bonham Carter.

THE PLOT: Sticking close to the 1950 animated version of the classic fairytale, we first meet the young Ella (Eloise Webb) living the life of a Edouard Manet painting – namely, Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe – mixed with Beatrix Potter’s dreams. This is a fairytale childhood, and therefore, tragedy is just around the corner. When Ella’s mother is taken fatally ill, she advises her young daughter to “Have courage, and be kind”. It’s a mantra that the teenage Ella (James) clings to when her loving father (Chaplin) marries the hard-nosed widow Lady Tremaine (Blanchett, cackling like Sybil Fawlty, so, we know she’s evil). When her father fails to return from a business trip, Ella soon finds herself becoming servant and slave to her wicked stepmother and her rude and uncouth daughters, Drisella (McShera) and Anatasia (Grainger). Banished to the attic, Ella tries to have courage and be kind, but her struggle to remain so is interrupted when she happens upon a young man on a stag hunt. Convincing this stranger to call off the hunt, Cinderella (a name given to her by her stepsisters after a night sleeping too close to the fire) fails to recognise that the man she is so readily admonishing is none other than the Prince. And once departed, he is determined to find this mysterious girl again…

THE VERDICT: Shot in sweeping, swooning, glorious 2D, there’s something very familiar and comforting about Kenneth Branagh’s live-action take on the well-worn European folk tale that has been around at least as long as Rhodopis, the Greek slave girl, married the king of Egypt way back in 7 BC. Despite its long history, and its many, many tellings, for most people, Cinderella will always be the 1950s Walt Disney animated outing, and it’s undoubtedly the blueprint that our Ken is working from here. Which is all hokey-kokey with me, given just how classic a tale of oppresion and final act revenge Cinderella happens to be. And how much of an emotional punch can be wrung from this delicious tale of domestic abuse and very delayed gratification.

That’s not to put too arty a point on what is, bottom line, just a great big Cinemascopic kiss of a movie, from Blanchett’s wicked-but-troubled stepmother to Madden’s shining and shy Prince and lead Lily James’ wry beauty (somehow managing to suggest Cinderella may be good as gold but she’s also capable of being bold as brass). Think the truly enchanting Enchanted without the post-modern irony.

Sentimental, sugar-coated and soaked overnight in schmaltz, Cinderella is a triumph not because it tries to subvert its classic fairytale roots but because it embraces them. Spectacularly.

RATING: 5/5

Review by Paul Byrne

Cinderella
Review by Paul Byrne
5.0A Triumph!
  • filmbuff2011

    Disney have been dipping into their back catalogue recently, with Maleficent being a prequel to Sleeping Beauty and Into The Woods being a post-modern fairytale musical. It’s back to basics though with Cinderella, for which Kenneth Branagh has delivered an old-fashioned but also modern take on this oft-told tale. After the death of her mother, the simple but elegant Ella (Lily James) finds her position in society has changed. Her Father (Ben Chaplin) has moved on. A new Step-mother (Cate Blanchett) moves in with her two daughters, the fussy Drisella (Sophie McShera) and the self-obsessed Anastasia (Holliday Grainger). They regularly torment Ella, making her do the dirty housework and putting her down as Cinder-Ella. A chance encounter with a Prince (Richard Madden) changes all that and they immediately fall for each other. The Prince needs a bride, so Ella sets off against Step-Mother’s wishes for a most eventful night at the palace… This new take on Cinderella may initially seem unnecessary, but it quickly becomes apparent that the reliable Branagh has found a reason to give it life. Working from a witty script by Chris Weitz that is both emotional and true to the spirit of the Disney brand, Branagh keeps the story mostly fresh, even if we know what’s coming ahead. It’s a visually arresting film too, with sweeping widescreen cinematography by Dante Ferretti and colourful costumes by Sandy Powell. The Blade Runner-style melding of different eras into one cinematic landscape is the film’s strongest point. It may look like it’s set somewhere between the 18th and 19th Centuries, but Blanchett’s costumes look straight out of a 1940s film noir (Barbara Stanwyck was an influence). The performances are nicely tuned up, with Blanchett eating up the screen as the villainous step-mother, but never coming across as chewing the scenery (nobody could ever accuse Blanchett of that). James gives a very sweet and honest performance that is entirely appropriate for this type of film. How much you accept her interpretation depends on your levels of cynicism. Given that we’ve had post-modern princesses like Shrek’s Fiona, Ella could be regarded as a step backwards, to a less cynical time when it was all sunshine and happiness. Uncle Walt would be proud, but this reviewer could have done with a more grounded Ella. Cinderella is light and enjoyable entertainment though. Disney and the general public should certainly be happy with Branagh for this new take on an old fairytale. ***

  • emerb

    “Cinderella” was first released by Disney in 1951 and remains, to this day, one of the most beloved fairy tales ever created, still enjoyed endlessly by generations of movie-goers. The decision to adapt, recreate and modernize it with live action and real actors might be considered too risky and ambitious but fear not, director
    Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz have stayed faithful to the original and yet added a few fresh touches, deeper character development,
    extra emotional dimension and some fine theatrical embellishments. This version is neither an animation nor a musical but the most noteworthy elements of the original version remain perfectly intact, much to my delight! The overall result is an enchanting, exhilarating and simply wonderful family feature that retains the strengths of its source material while at the same time updating it for today’s audiences. Without a doubt, it is a worthy companion to the classic Disney animated feature, which retains all of its prettiness, sincerity and heartwarming charm.

    In the opening idyllic scenes, we are introduced to a happy family – the young sunny Ella (Eloise Webb) frolics about the meadows (the “Cinder” prefix arrives later), dancing with butterflies and playing with (CGI generated) pet mice under the adoring gazes of her noble and kindly parents (Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell). They lead a perfectly charmed existence but it proves to be short-lived,
    as her mother dies young and leaves Ella’s dad so overcome with grief he makes a dreadful choice for a second wife – the horrendous Lady Tremaine, who makes a wonderful entrance is a sweeping gown of yellow and black, her eyes glaring out from behind a veil of dark black netting. From the outset, she doesn’t even bother to disguise her contempt for Ella as she and her two indolent, chattering and moronic daughters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera) move into the house. After Ella’s father dies on one of his voyages, Ella is left alone, treated as a lowly servant girl and subjected to endlessly cruel treatment at the hands of her stepmother and stepsisters, who derisively nickname her as “Cinderella” because of the ashes on her face. As we all know, this dismal situation prompts the intervention of an unpredictable fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) to provide her with an opportunity to attend a grand ball being held for all the eligible maidens of the kingdom. It is here that she is reunited with the handsome, dark stranger she met previously in the woods, known to her as “Kit”. And as the fairy tale goes, they live happily ever after……

    Performances from the first rate cast are universally top class. Lily James (the sweet natured Lady Rose from “Downton Abbey”) sparkles as Cinderella with her wonderfully expressive face and unaffected sweetness. She displays the perfect balance between composure and quick wittedness and upholds her promise to her mother to “keep courage and stay kind” (an echoing refrain throughout the film and the guiding principal for her life). She lives according to her values and is a strong independent character. Never losing her good cheer, she discovers happiness where others would lose hope, she even embraces the cold miserable attic loft where she is virtually imprisoned. At the dance, she is required to enchant a room full of aristocrats and nobility and turns out to be the most radiant, graceful and captivating lady on the floor. Kudos to James for pulling it off so magnificently, never once does she come across as simpering or weak. When she floats down the spiral steps of the palace, she is every inch the perfect Cinderella of our imaginations and dreams – a princess with presence.
    Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”) is spot on as the dashing and impossibly
    handsome Prince Charming who is faced with sorrows and challenges of his own. He is a more substantive character here, not just a two dimensional prop but a smart man who believes he deserves true love and not just a politically convenient marriage. Cate Blanchett is deliciously vampy and venomous as the devious, evil stepmother and I like that her backstory is fleshed out a bit more here, she married the second time for financial security and she feels burdened by her silly, untalented daughters – at least she has motivation for her wicked ways which evokes a tang of sympathy. Even Stellan Skarsgard nails it as the scheming, manipulative Grand Duke.

    The attention to detail is impressive and Branagh makes use of dazzling special effects without going over the top. I was totally immersed in the imaginative sequence when the sublime and buxom Helena Bonham Carter shows up as the Fairy Godmother (she also narrates). It is highly amusing and enchanting to watch the transformation of mice into horses, lizards into footmen, a giant pumpkin which rocks and swells violently before exploding into a golden carriage, to be haphazardly piloted by a goose! Equally entertaining is the rapid disintegration at the last stroke of midnight where all the animals revert to their former selves – it’s all quite spellbinding and the techno-trickers is both captivating and funny. Nature and animals are used to great effect – the forest shot in softly glowing colours, charming chattering mice who work to help Cinderella, the gloriously multi-coloured butterflies dancing over a field of flowers and even the stepmother’s malevolent Persian cat. The use of colour and light is remarkable too – the swirling dance at the palace ball is a riot of energy and colour, Cinderella’s royal blue shimmering dress is exquisite and the glass slippers sparkle in the night. From the very first shot, we are awed by gorgeous scenery, terrific sets, imaginative costumes, stellar cinematography and superb performances. “Cinderella” is a winner on so many levels – it is sweet, dreamy and romantic and, for me, it stands out as one of the best versions ever put on film.