In recent years Disney have had something of a fetish for revisionist history movies- last year we were given Maleficent, an overly feminist retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale, whilst the year before we had Oz The Great and Powerful, the story of the Wizard of Oz prior to the original tale. So it makes for quite a refreshing change that Disney have opted to go for a more straight forward, more loyal approach with their latest film Cinderella.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh (Thor) and starring Lily James (Downtown Abbey) in the title role the tale of Cinderella needs no introduction but for those of you who have spent your lives living under a rock here’s a brief summary: James plays Ella; a beautiful and sweet girl who lives an idyllic life in a farmhouse with her wonderful parents, both of whom love her very much. Life is great for Ella until one day her mother suddenly passes away and her father, after wrestling with grief for years, marries another woman, Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) , who also brings with her two wicked daughters, Drizella and Anastasia.
When her father dies on a trip Ella is left to live with the trio, all of whom are envious of her and treat her like a common house slave. Ella, due to having been taught by her mother that she must always be kind maintains face despite all the cruelty pushed upon her. One day Ella, now nicknamed Cinderella by her step sisters has a chance encounter with a handsome prince and sees hope for the future in a potential life with him. Only she is not the only one after his affections and she must attend a ball to win him over.
The live action remake of Cinderella is undeniably schmaltzy and overly sentimental- constantly reinforcing its message of course and kindness but it also has charm to spare thanks to Brannagh’s delightful direction and James’ magnificent central performance.
Joining Lily James in the cast are several notable names. Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden takes on the role of Princes Charming and delivers a likable performance whilst Academy Winner Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) adds some serious weight to the film. Blanchett’s performance as the evil step mother is a lot more nuanced that one might expect as the script, by Chris Weitz (who is now working on Star Wars: The Rogue One), pads her character out nicely, adding some much needed depth to the otherwise quite pantomime role. Stellan Skarsgard (The Avengers), Derek Jacobi (Gladiator) and Nonso Anozie (Bad Santa) all have nice supporting turns whilst Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club) is back to her best as the fairy god mother.
Kenneth Branagh must take a lot of credit for the film’s success. The acclaimed actor/director has dipped in and out of many genres over his storied career and his ability to craft magic on screen is unquestionable. One of the films big scenes, the ball at the palace looks extraordinary; a stunning combination of great set designs, gorgeous costumes and brilliant acting.
Cinderella takes Disney back to its roots and is all the better for it. Yes it is overly sentimental and perhaps too cheesy for some but on the whole it is a beautiful film to watch, one full of great performances and a sweet, naive charm that has been otherwise absent from Disney’s recent live action remakes.