Running Time: 105 min
Directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh
Starring- Lilly James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgard,
Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger and Derek Jacobi
(Movie House Dublin Road, charity screening 22/03/2015)
AS Disney continues to plough ahead with remaking their animated back-catalogue, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella bucks the recent trend by not retelling the story in a different, post-modern way. Unlike movies like Snow White and the Huntsman, Maleficent and even Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Branagh’s feature embraces its fairy-tale heritage and plays out like a big-budget pantomime.
Downton Abbey‘s Lilly James is cast in the film’s central role of Ella, later dubbed Cinderella by the cruel members of her stepfamily, with Game of Thrones actor Richard Madden playing her Prince Charming. James and Madden might be relative newcomers to the big-screen, but they’re joined by an impressive ensemble cast that includes Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgard and Derek Jacobi.
It’s safe to assume that most viewers will know the story of Cinderella, either from watching Disney’s animated original or from reading Charles Perrault’s original fairy-tale. When they already know what’s going to happen the tricky task is to maintain their interest throughout the movie, it’s not the actual A-Z aspect of the story that becomes important, but how it gets from A-Z.
There’s so many iconic moments littered throughout this story, from the Fairy God-Mother’s ‘you shall go to the ball’ sequence, through to Cinderella’s mad dash home before the stroke of midnight. Branagh brings them all to life wonderfully, but for all the glorious spectacle of those CGI laden set-pieces, it’s the simplicity of the Prince’s ball that has stuck in my memory. With a dance sequence choreographed to near perfection, a stunning array of beautiful costumes and a set that features enough glitz and glamour, its decadence would make even F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby blush.
At times though the film is a little too sugary sweet for its own good, particularly sequences early on between young Ella and her parents and definitely later on as the love story between Ella and the young Prince takes centre stage. The relationship between the two is probably the weakest aspect of the film, despite some genuine chemistry between the two, there’s no spark from their scenes together.
It’s left to the more experienced cast members to pick up the slack, with Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter stealing the show in their respective roles; Blanchett in particular revels in her role as the evil step-mother, with a cackling laugh that would rival John Challis’ Boycie from Only Fool and Horses.
There’s a hint of Bette Davis’ ‘Baby’ Jane Hudson in the way her character is portrayed throughout the movie, she’s not an outright villain as her character was in Disney’s animated original, but an older woman jealous of her step-daughter’s youth and beauty, determined to make sure the young woman doesn’t have her fairy-tale ending at the expense of her own two daughters.
Aside from her narration duties, Bonham Carter isn’t actually in the film for very long, but her performance as Cinderella’s fairy Godmother is a memorable one. Initially barely recognisable as an old decrepit woman, the British actresses’ presence lifts the tempo of the film, injecting some much-needed fun and quirkiness, just as the tone gets more sombre.
It’s remarkable how easily Branagh, an actor and director so closely associated with Shakespeare and the stage has made the move into directing big-budget blockbusters. From his work on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Thor and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, he’s made the transition look seamless, tackling bigger budgets and visual effects with relative ease. He seems to have a firm understanding of the genres he’s working within and has no problem indulging his viewers with the expected connotations and trappings that come with them, bringing a wonderfully British sense of humour to his features.
Much like Paul King’s Paddington Branagh’s movie wears its heart on its sleeve, embracing its fairy-tale heritage and having fun along the way, it’s a film that the whole family can enjoy. Admittedly it might lack as strong a central heroine as we’ve seen in some recent Disney films, but Lilly James’ Cinderella is by no means a damsel in distress. Only time will tell if it has the enduring qualities of the animated original, but this reviewer can confidently assume it will be remembered long after many of the more ‘post-modern’ fairy-tales have been long forgotten.
Review by Jim McClean