Cinderella is directed by Kenneth Branagh, once famed for his Shakespearean roles, but now better known for his work behind the camera that includes Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) and Thor (2011). The screenplay was penned by Chris Weitz who is better known as a producer but of interest for Star Wars fans is that he is down to write the first spin-off film Rogue One.
This version of Cinderella is a largely faithful live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1950 animated classic. As such I can’t really spoil the story but there’s an evil stepmother, some nasty stepsisters and a pumpkin that transforms into a carriage. While this version retains the fairy-tale elements it is certainly more grounded. The story is very well set up as we have to deal with the loss of key figures in Ella’s (Lily James) life. That’s not a error in the name, the Cinder part comes after the first act. The film injects real emotion into its opening whilst not losing it’s innocent family-friendly tone.
It is at this point that we meet the star of the show in the form of Cate Blanchett, who plays the part of the evil stepmother. The brilliance of her performance is that she is able to exude nastiness while never being too pantomime. She is supported by a decent script and direction in that in just a couple of scenes we get to learn why she is the way she is. This is not a one-dimensional villain we are dealing with.
The 2015 Cinderella has been brought up-to-date. She doesn’t sit around waiting to be rescued by the Prince (Richard Madden). Ella rides horses at full gallop, holds her own in exchanges with her stepmother and doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. Ultimately her relationship with the Prince is a partnership and is together that they are stronger providing the Kingdom with a bright, stable future. The filmmakers have been careful to follow the current trend of strong leading female characters.
The film isn’t perfect. Richard Madden is servicable as a Prince Charming but does little to lift the role and the score is rousing but a bit samey. The biggest problem for myself were the two stepsisters, Drisella and Anastasia, played by Sophie McShara and Holliday Grainger. Given the more grounded tone of this Cinderella their combined performance was a little too over the top. I presume they were directed to be as shrill as they were as it was consistent from start to finish. I’m not familiar with McShara’s work in Downton Abbey but I have seen Grainger in The Riot Club (2014) and she can play down-to-earth really well. I have a feeling they were meant to appeal to the kids although as I was in a quiet screening I can’t gauge this very well.
Overall Cinderella is a well bolted together movie that will appeal to all generations and retains the timeless appeal of the original while being a little more grown up. Unusually I am going to give it two ratings – for adults 3/5, for the kids 4/5.
Let me know in the comments section what you thought about this film and the current trend to remake all of Disney’s animation back catalogue as live action movies.