Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Hayley Atwell and Helena Bonham Carter
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: March 27th
Once audiences were exposed to Scream, we were no longer willing to put up with idiot scream-queens with bigger breast dimensions than IQ, investigating strange noises in their underwear. Self-awareness and post-modernism had changed the game, and horror had to adapt accordingly. Now it appears that Disney has put itself in a very similar scenario, as after Into The Woods (self-awareness) and Enchanted (post-modernism), making a straight-up fairy-tale seems almost quaint.
If anyone can do it well though, it’s director Kenneth Branagh. Taking magical Norse mythology and helping it find a mass audience was a bigger achievement than we give him credit for, as if Thor hadn’t worked, Avengers Assemble might not have worked and it’s unlikely we’d have Guardians of the Galaxy.
After the prequels, re-imaginings and dark retellings such as Oz the Great & Powerful, Maleficent or Snow White & the Huntsmen, what’s most surprising is how writer Chris Weitz (About A Boy) has managed to tell the thin tale without changing it drastically, but still run over 100 minutes long. Cinderella (Lily James) is forced to become her evil step-mother (Cate Blanchett) and step-sisters house-slave after her father dies, but when she accidentally crosses paths with a prince (Richard Madden), she falls in love. From there it’s all lavish balls, fairy godmothers (Helena Bonham Carter), pumpkins-into-carriages and glass slippers. There’s nothing new here, but there was nothing new in Branagh’s version of Hamlet either, and that didn’t stop people from loving it.
Assisted by Dante Ferretti’s incredible production design, Sandy Powell’s gorgeous costumes and Haris Zambarloukos’ lush cinematography, this version of Cinderella is an absolute feast for the eyes. The performances are equally great, with James nailing the bright-eyed optimism; Blanchett giving shades to a potential one-note bitch; Bonham Carter can do this kind of loveable mania in her sleep, while Hayley Atwell, Stellan Skarsgard and Derek Jacobi leave major impressions in minor roles.
It should feel like this review is going to end happily ever after, and yet… there’s still something a little off about Cinderella. Perhaps because it is a story so out of touch with modern times, telling young girls that your only escape from a pitiful life is to get a rich man to fall in love with you, or maybe the pro-feminism of Frozen has left an indelible mark sooner than we thought. Also, at times the movie is trying so hard to be taken seriously, there’s actually very little fun to be had. Cinderella’s earnestness proves to be the movies greatest strength and biggest weakness, so easy to get swept up in while you’re watching it, but come the stroke of midnight that night, the magic appears to be all but forgotten.