“I’ll have to tell you a secret that will see you through all the trials that life can offer: Have courage and be kind.”
Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella isn’t much of a re-imagination of the classic Disney animated film as much as it is a straightforward live action retelling of the tale. In a time where we’ve seen several of Disney’s beloved classic stories being reimagined and told through a much darker light, Cinderella’s faithfulness to the familiar tale feels like a fresh of breath air. In papers it shouldn’t work, but surprisingly I found it way more engaging than Snow White and the Huntsman, Alice in Wonderland, and even Maleficent (which I actually ended up enjoying), all films which were told through new perspectives. Branagh is known for adapting well known literary works (specifically from Shakespeare) and once again he delivers through breathtaking and colorful visuals and surprisingly engaging characters. Sometimes it isn’t just about the story that is being told, but how you tell it, and Branagh is an excellent storyteller. He was able to take this very familiar tale and without introducing anything new to it, he still kept the audience magically engaged with the story. A lot of credit must be given to the fantastic cast and the astonishing visuals which turned this fairytale into a classical period piece. At times I felt like I was watching an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel with so much attention to the period details and wonderful costume designs. I’m sure this film will receive a couple of Oscar nominations in the production and costume design department because it is visually inspiring. I’ve only seen a dozen films released this year, but so far this is the best and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was emotionally engaged with the film. It is better than the beloved animated classic, which I wasn’t really a huge fan of.
Is it really necessary to check on the spoiler warning box for a straightforward adaptation of this classic tale? There aren’t any surprises in this screenplay adaptation from Charles Perrault’s fairy tale written by Chris Weitz (About a Boy). It basically follows a similar structure from Disney’s animated adaptation with perhaps a little more background on Cinderella’s parents (played by Ben Chaplin and Hayley Attwell). Cinderella is wonderfully and beautifully played by Lily James (who plays Lady Rose in Downtown Abbey) while her stepmother is brilliantly portrayed by Cate Blanchett. Her character may have seemed a bit cartoonish at times, but Blanchett sure knows how to wear fashion dresses. We do get some explanation as to why she behaves in such a cruel way so she does have some depth. The stepsisters however are completely cartoonish and deliver most of the laughs for young audiences. Drisella and Anastasia are played by Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger. The heart of the story however centers around the fantastic chemistry between Lily James’s Cinderella and the Prince played by Richard Madden (Rob Stark from Game of Thrones). The pair actually share a scene together before the ball that is really engaging and helps sell the love story. In order for the film to work it needs to have a believable love story and it does. Helena Bonham Carter also has a wonderful short scene as the Fairy Godmother, and Derek Jacobi does a convincing job as the King. Nonso Anozie is the Captain of the Palace, while Stellan Skarsgard plays the Grand Duke. Despite our familiarity with the story, the entire cast delivers and that allows the story to flow in a magical way.
My only complaint is that the message of the film “have courage and be kind” was repeated throughout the entire movie. We constantly were beaten over the head with it, but since this is a film geared towards a younger audience I understood why they did it. In a time where a lot of emphasis has been placed on being brave it is refreshing to be reminded about the power of kindness. Cinderella is given a strong female role here and it requires a lot of strength to be kind in the midst of such difficult trials. We may not have needed to hear the message so many times because we could see it through her actions. James portrayed this character in such a beautiful way and she is an actress with a bright future ahead of her. Cinderella is a much stronger character here than in the animated film; she’s not simply waiting for a prince to come and rescue her. She is strong and determined and when we finally see her first encounter with the Prince, it is she who has a greater influence in him than he does in her. The ball room scene is also magical and despite knowing every beat of the film I couldn’t help but feel invested and thrilled by the magical spell this warm film left me with. Cinderella is living proof that remaining faithful to a classic story isn’t such a bad idea after all.