Cinderella: Film Review
Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgaard
Director: Kenneth Branagh
It's hard to be cynical when presented with the 2015 live action version of Cinderella.
Yet, it's also potentially even harder to take the film at face value in a world where weary children are bombarded with cartoons rich in subtext and meaning.
That must have been the quandary for Kenneth Branagh, who's helming this latest take on the Disney classic, which more or less plays it right down the line when revisiting the original tale.
In this 2015 version, Downton Abbey's Lily James (all porcelain skin, blonde hair and looking very much like Elsa from Frozen - surely no coincidence that short Frozen Fever screens just before) is the Ella of the fairy tale. Her life's irrevocably changed when her mother (Hayley Atwell) dies, imparting the mantra "Have courage and be kind" to her as her dying wish.
After time, her travelling father (Ben Chaplin) takes in Lady Tremaine (an icy, tart with just the right amount of classic villainness and chic 1940s screen star Cate Blanchett) and her two daughters. But to compound Ella's own tragedy, her father dies on the road, leaving the girl a servant in her own home.
But hope for Ella is only a stone's throw away after she meets the square-jawed Kit (Game of Thrones' Richard Madden) in the forest... will this girl get her man and rise above the tragedy that's befallen her?
Ironically for a film so swathed in sumptuous colour, Branagh's workmanlike Cinderella is completely black and white.
Sticking almost rigidly to the formula and faithfulness of the original (as well as some CGI touches including comedy mice and a clever transformation of the old pumpkin carriage), this Cinderella is a refreshing blast of yesteryear brought vividly to life with a director who's got an eye for classic cinema as his camera swirls around.
It's not perfect though; it's a little too long with the 2 hour duration likely to cause some fidgeting within the ranks of the young and some pantomime comedy moments failing flatter than anything and not landing with perhaps the zing that would have been expected.
The worst offenders are the squabbling Tremaine siblings who irritate; but Branagh has the chutzpah to ensure this film is above all, a spectacle with a simple message of being kind and courageous rather than a post-ironic feminist take on it all.
In terms of the acting, James is solid enough as Cinders, breathing life where necessary and a veritable personification of kindness; Madden is little more than a square jaw as the Prince; a theatrical Blanchett is a cool blast of conflicted iciness as the step-mother, whose cruelty lies quietly bubbling behind a cold veneer; and Bonham-Carter brings life - and a bit of Disney magic - at the right moment as the toothy Fairy Godmother giving the film the oomph it needs as it threatens dangerously to sag.
But all of those stars are eclipsed by the work done by the costuming and set work, which are all infinitely more luscious and flourish more than anything else on screen.
Bright, vivid colours, cobalt blues and opulent sets garnished with bountiful beauteous touches bring more striking life to the screen than anything else (and should see three time Academy Award winning Sandy Powell take home another trophy if there's any justice).
This Cinderella is no ugly step-sister - and in a post-modern world where Disney's mocked its own conventions, it deserves praise for following the path already travelled and for giving us a fairy tale which breezes life into the old nostalgia and will ensure many want to go to the ball.