Review: Cinderella


Grit and realism have been the watchword of so much modern cinema, with such remakes as Malificent and Snow White and the Huntsmen being all too keenly picked apart from their roots. By comparison Kenneth Branagh’s decision to buck the trend and stick to the source material is a refreshing one, and with commendable performances from a talented cast the new live-action Cinderella does more than just recapture the charm of the original.

It is an understanding for what made the original a Disney classic, and what needed to be updated that allows the transition from 1950 animation to modern day live action to work so successfully. Branagh and his team have crafted an endearing fairy-tale spectacle, with gorgeous visuals from Dante Ferreti and a charming screenplay from Chris Weitz, who crucially understands that without adding life and depth to the characters, many of the actors would have struggled to bring anything to their roles. Everything is done within the bounds of the source material and with the target audience in mind, with more than a few references to the original. Despite this, it succeeds in developing a believability in the roles and a self-awareness that really shows the potential for its appeal to a wider audience.

Tonally Branagh does everything right. The film doesn’t try to cater to additional audiences by trying to be something it’s not.

There are no attempts at pop culture references or unnecessarily tacked on action sequences, and although the film nearly becomes oversweet the narrative trots along with enough pace for it to be quickly forgiven. The film doesn’t stint on the magic and spectacle either, delivering with a staggering ballroom sequence, and the well-used CGI coming into its own for the stories big transformation scene. All of which is well complimented by a lively and soaring, if slightly forgettable, score from Patrick Doyle.

Lily James as Cinderella brings a resilience and brightness to the role, much more believably than the faultless character in the animation, and Richard Madden slips very well into the part of the perfect prince, with just the right amount of onscreen charisma. They have good chemistry, helped in part by a much less dated dialogue, although some may find their performances a little toothache inducing at moments. It is at these times that the Disney sparkle begins to feel slightly synthetic. Fortunately these moments are few and far between.

Mention must be made of Lily James’ very slender physique, amid rumours of liquid diet. This is a cause for concern for the young target audience, that is disappointing given Disney’s recent steps in the right direction. On that note, Cinderella herself is in obvious contrast with the strong female leads of Frozen and Brave, where in keeping with the source material the role seems a little dialled back by comparison. Despite James’ best efforts, Cinderella retains some of her passive nature that pervaded her character in the original, now more than 60 years ago. However, she is far from limp, and has a robustness and lively wit that adds to her appeal.

Cinderella showcases a star studded supporting cast at their very best.

Whatever can be said of the leads, Weitz’s screenplay is an excellent platform for the supporting cast. Helena Bonham Carter is every bit as good as you would expect, as witty and scathing as ever. She manages to poke fun at the original without undermining it, and really makes the role her own. Derek Jacobi is well cast as a wise and endearing king, while Stellan Skarsgård and Nonso Anozie, as advisors to the royal family, add a much needed functionality to a kingdom, asking questions of the lead character’s decisions and even hinting at some social commentary.

But the real star of the show is Cate Blanchett. Billed at the head of the credits for a performance that has all the glorious wickedness of the evil stepmother role, she is able to bring to the screen the emotions of a single parent doing the utmost for her children. She creates a cruel, unfeeling façade for her character that covers a sympathetic portrait of a woman forced by circumstance into sacrificing her happiness and morals to see her daughters succeed. It is her magnificent performance, if anything, that will elevate this film from an enjoyable family viewing to a Disney classic.

While some more cynical viewers may find this remake unpalatable, many will find appeal in the charming nature of Branagh’s story, which will surely be a hit.

PHOTO/NYC Film Critic


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