UK Release Date: 27th March 2015
Runtime: 113 minutes
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Chris Weitz
Starring: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Stellan Skarsgård, Rob Brydon
Synopsis: A mistreated young woman gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she is visited by her magical Fairy Godmother.
Cinema loves remaking fairytales at the moment. Everything, from Snow White to Sleeping Beauty has been remixed and altered in revisionist fashion. Already this year, Sondheim musical Into the Woods took a wry glance at a variety of classic tales. Against that backdrop, Kenneth Branagh’s steadfastly traditional adaptation of Cinderella is positively innovative in its lack of innovation.
After the death of her father, Ella (Lily James) is left in the care of her stepmother (Cate Blanchett), whose two daughters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera) treat Ella horribly. When she hears that the Prince (Richard Madden) is throwing a party, she becomes excited until her stepmother refuses to allow her to attend. Fortunately, her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) has other ideas.
Cinderella truly is a tale as old as time. As such, it’s actually an oddly brave decision for writer Chris Weitz and director Kenneth Branagh to produce an adaptation that is traditional and conventional to a fault. Thankfully, due to a combination of wit, sweetness and dazzling colour, the story works just as well in 2015 as it did when Disney released their animated version in the 1950s.
| "Just because it’s what’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done."
Lily James, previously best known for her work on Downton Abbey, is a sympathetic, sensitive lead. She has a palpable warmth and innocence to her that makes her portrayal memorable, even if all of the glamour falls at the feet of Cate Blanchett’s show-stealing wicked stepmother. Blanchett chews the scenery with relish, in a portrayal that stands as a stark, but equally welcome, counterpoint to her more subtle, Oscar-winning work in Blue Jasmine.
Sadly, Richard Madden (Game of Thrones’ Robb Stark) fares considerably worse. It’s said that female characters are reduced to cliché in fairytale stories, but Cinderella fails to provide much for its male protagonist to do. Only a brief, but potent, scene at the bedside of his father (Derek Jacobi) allows Madden to display anything in the way of acting range.
Branagh’s skill is in pitching Cinderella squarely at families. There’s sensitivity and maturity mixed with moments of absurd camp, mainly courtesy of Helena Bonham Carter’s godmother and a cameoing Rob Brydon as a painter. It never feels anything other than safe as houses, but too many edges would definitely have spoilt the pleasingly homely broth.
| "At the last stroke of midnight, the spell will be broken."
Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella isn’t going to win any awards for originality, but that’s not something it wants to achieve. The film is simplistic, escapist fantasy for the Easter holiday crowd. On that level, it succeeds with a resounding bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.
Pop or Poop?
Despite some dodgy performances and an over-reliance on glitzy CGI, Kenneth Branagh’s workmanlike adaptation of the Cinderella story is a comforting family film.
There isn’t a single rough edge on show and revisionism is binned, but there’s a charm to its simplicity enhanced by Lily James’ warmth and Cate Blanchett’s panto villain.
It’s a less-is-more approach to filmmaking that, notwithstanding its unoriginal feel, ensures Cinderella will be a family DVD favourite to rival its predecessors.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.