(G) Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden
Does the world really need another Cinderella film? This glass-slippered fairy tale has been told throughout the ages — in written form, animated, stage shows, and as live-action films. But this latest big-screen version of Cinderella can be summed up in one word: Refreshing. The main reason is that director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Hamlet) has not tried to make a big political statement here. There are no feminist “rants” or judgments about the political systems of the time. Also, he hasn’t included any grand surprises. Instead, Cinderella is a sincere telling of a fantasy story. Love, beauty, kindness and evil are all portrayed without apology. Men are allowed to be men and women are allowed to be women.
Just in case you had forgotten the details of Cinderella: Ella (Lily James) lives a charmed life but, inevitably, it takes a few tragic turns. Her widower father decides to remarry but makes a poor choice. The dire consequences of this include Ella suffering abuse from her step-mother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters. Made to serve this evil trio, Ella begins to lose hope — despite having promised her mother to “have courage and be kind”. In a twist of fate, she meets Prince Kit (Richard Madden), who is entranced by her inner and outer beauty. He arranges for all the maidens of the kingdom to come to a ball, so that he can choose a wife. This is where the magical spin begins to unfold. What would a fairy tale be without a fairy godmother, the love of animals and creative usage of garden vegetables?
As Ella, Lily James (Downton Abbey) manages to toe the line between strength and beautiful fragility. She is a strong and appealing character, yet James also provides her with refreshing innocence. Game of Thrones’s Madden is masculine and delivers as a prince charming who doesn’t take himself too seriously (while understanding his obligations). Cate Blanchett pulls off villainy at a level that shows the greatness of her acting range. Also, even though she is only briefly on screen, Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech) is perfectly cast as the fairy godmother. The acting has been supported well by gorgeous sets and cinematography which allows for a journey into another world. A world of recent European splendour and a magical forever ever after.
Within all of the grandeur and beauty, though, there does seem to have been some confusion regarding the target audience. Sitting in the theatre with a multitude of little girls in blue dresses, it was hard not to notice that they were not captivated by what was on the screen. Why? Probably because Branagh’s interpretation of this familiar fairy tale is for a mature audience. Although it has a G rating — there really isn’t any highly objectionable material to be found here — Cinderella still seems intended for an audience that can appreciate the deeper considerations of life, love and family. Also, the mature themes of death and abuse might be a bit much for younger viewers. That said, all these elements don’t make for a bad cinematic experience; merely, that all-ages expectations might need to be shifted.
There are overarching themes of kindness and courage throughout, as well as the reality check that not all things will go your way in life. With the inevitability of such difficulties in life — even in a fairy tale — the lesson can be found in how you choose to respond to them. One other deeper theme opened by Cinderella is the highs and lows of family. This is seen in the portrayal of Ella and her parents, as well as the prince and his father, and how Lady Tremaine and her daughters treat our heroine. One of the best messages from Branagh’s depiction of family in Cinderella, is that the deep love of family helps throughout the most difficult of situations.
If you go into this film hoping for a new or darker portrayal of Ella’s adventures, you will be disappointed. This is a magical journey requiring a suspension of disbelief but, if you are willing to believe, Cinderella can revive even the most pessimistic in the audience.
Do we need another Cinderella film? Yes, as this worthwhile version proved to be a refreshing telling of a familiar tale. But it also is more suited to mature audiences desiring a bit of escapism.