Cinderella, unlike the recent spate of live action fairy tales like Malificent or Into the Woods, makes no attempt at a major retelling of the classic 1950s Disney animation I grew up with. But despite the lack of originality, there is a certain comfort in knowing a happy ending is at hand.
When a young Ella (played by Lily James of Downton Abbey) loses her mother, she is determined to obey the latter’s last wishes: “have courage and be kind”. This mantra is sorely tested though, when Ella’s father remarries a calculating widow, Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett). Her extraordinarily dumb but cruel daughters take immense pleasure in taking advantage of Ella’s good nature. After the death of Ella’s father, the evil trio gradually force Ella to become their servant and she’s renamed Cinderella, for being dirtied by the ashes of the fire she sleeps next to.
Hope is restored though, when a broken-hearted Cinderella flees into the woods on a horse and meets Prince Charming (Richard Madden), who hides his identity. Charming, or Kit as he introduces himself, is enchanted by the unidentified woman’s innocence and purity of heart. Why, she asks him, is he frightening and hunting a stag. “Just because it’s what’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done”, she chastens him.
Unable to forget this encounter, Charming, who’s under pressure to marry a princess, organises a ball, open to all women in the kingdom. His hope of course, is that the mystery girl will attend. The rest of the story is well-known. Cinderella’s evil stepmother forbids her from going to the ball. A fairy godmother (played by Helena Bonham Carter) appears and magically turns Cinderella’s rags into a beautiful gown and turns a pumpkin into a golden coach. Mice are transformed into horses, a swan into a coachman and lizards into footmen. With her (very comfortable) glass slippers, Cinderella attends the ball, and captures the prince’s heart.
There are no unexpected surprises in Cinderella but let’s forget the feminist critique a little here (that of course being the problematic idea that a woman’s “good behaviour” is rewarded by marriage, the ultimate happy ending). Fairytales are moral stories, designed to provide “life lessons”. In Cinderella, the moral is that goodness, kindness, and courage will ultimately be rewarded (not such a bad lesson).Kenneth Branagh, he of Shakespeare fame, is well-suited to direct this classic.
Cate Blanchett is simply a wonderful evil stepmother. Her perfectly-plucked, raised eyebrows, and cold smile are deliciously villainous. Helena Bonham Carter is notable as the eccentric, slightly befuddled fairy godmother while Lily James just oozes “goodness”. The fact that black smears and torn dresses can’t hide Cinderella’s perfect features and tiny waist is secondary. The costumes are also beautifully crafted (Cinderella’s blue ballgown being an almost exact replica of the Disney classic).
Admittedly, it’s a sappy tale but there is a certain pleasure in watching this type of family film, with no heavy thinking involved and knowing that all will work out in the end. It’s a typical crowd-pleasure (it’s topped the US and UK box offices on its release, and has already grossed over $300 million globally) and a decent family-watch for a long weekend.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Cast: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Book tickets here: http://www.sterkinekor.com/