UK Release Date 27th March 2015
Director BRANAGH
Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett
Runtime 105 minutes
Certificate PG
Reviewer Jo
Reviewed 9th April 2015

If you are of a certain age you will remember Natalie Imbruglia casting off her neighbours shackles with a smash hit (ripped off from some Swedish girl and uncovered by Chris Evans) called Torn. I quote Ms Imbruglia because Torn is exactly the way I feel about Sir Kenneth Branagh’s sumptuous Easter offering, Cinderella. On one hand it is a lavish feast for the eyes, is great fun, has a lovely cast and it did make me cry. On the other hand, no matter how much the film-makers try and protest about her not being rescued by a prince, ultimately that’s exactly what happens. And, like it or not, Lily James happens to be a very pretty, tall, thin, white blonde and that is what the film is putting forward as beautiful. 

The traditional story of Cinderella, or Aschenputtel by The Brothers Grimm, like many of their stories was vastly different and WAY gorier than the pretty fairy tale we know and love/loathe today.  In the traditional story our Cinders was a little feistier, a little witchier and a little wilier. Oh and the ugly sisters cut off their toes to fit into the shoe and birds pecked their eyes out at the end. Surprisingly Kenneth Branagh’s Disney Cinderella doesn’t involve foot mutilation or blinding by tiny bird. It does however involve some very pretty dresses, a BEAUTIFUL maiden and a VERY HANDSOME PRINCE. Got that kids? Good. I really don’t feel the need to recant the story of Cinderella, suffice to say that Lord Ken’s version doesn’t stray from what we know of the story, the Disney version that is. Suffice to say it goes like this: Girl has great life with mum and dad and animals that she can communicate with, mum and dad die, girl ends up with wicked mother and stepsisters, meets Fairy Godmother, goes to ball, marries Prince in the end. 

So let’s start with what’s good about this version shall we? And there is a lot. It looks absolutely gorgeous. Obviously no expense was spared and Dante Ferreti has done a first-rate job of production design, it looks just like the Disney cartoon sprung to vivid lush life.The ball scene where our Cinders and Prince have their first dance is a feast for the eyes, all of it in camera there are hundreds of candles and it is a breathtakingly beautiful moment. Much has been made of Lily James’ tiny waist in THE DRESS and yes it does look small but hey she is thin and that’s what corsetry does, we’ll come back to this later. For now we need to discuss the costumes. The costumes. The costumes! Sigh. Personally Sandy Powell’s breath-taking design work on this film is perhaps the singularly most important element to my enjoyment of it. I can’t remember the last time I was so captivated by clothing; she has done a remarkable job and really should get her fourth Oscar. THE DRESS that Cinderella wears to the ball is the item that everyone obsesses over but the Stepmother and Drusilla and Anastasia’s costumes stood out much more for me. They have a character of their own and almost leap off the screen. It’s an impressive body of work and not surprising that they had their own exhibition in London. 

Of course the cast wearing the clothes deserve a mention too and they are a wonderful ensemble. Blanchett of course is absolutely fabulous as wicked stepmother and Holiday Grainger and Sophie McShera are fantastically irritating stepsisters. Lily James is perfect as Cinderella and Richard Madden makes for a charming and handsome prince indeed, and wear VERY TIGHT WHITE TROUSERS. So if you like that kind of thing you are in for a treat. The inimitable Ms Bonham Carter who is simply having a ball as the fairy godmother. It's hugely satisfying casting. Of course we must discuss Cinderella herself. Lily James is just perfect as Cinders, she has a face you can’t help but love and she plays the role with delicacy and a huge amount of charm. The fact that Cinderella is tall, thin, white and blonde sits a little uneasily, particularly when those terrifying plastic dolls are smiling at my daughter in the shops but that’s not her fault. It’s Branagh’s for casting her. It’s most definitely not breaking any stereotypes, in fact it’s reinforcing them and that my friends, is a tad depressing. 

Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz have tried to give the Prince and the Stepmother more of a backstory, to try not make them so one dimensional and I applaud them for that but why stop there? Why couldn’t they have gone just a bit further and given Cinderella herself just a bit more gumption? The key thing Cinders is told throughout the film, by her dying mother is ‘have courage, be kind’. These are indeed lovely, sweet words to live by but I doubt that’s what would get Caitlin Moran going, or Germaine Greer or me frankly and what if a male character were to have these words as his mantra?  It would be ridiculous. Would it have been so much of a stretch to have the fairy godmother magic Cinderella up something that could give her independence? Her own house?  Some money? No matter how much the cast and Branagh suggest that Cinderella is not rescued by the prince I must beg to differ. When he comes to find her with that very nice shoe she is locked in the attic with some mice singing to herself. She is not penning a feisty riposte to The Female Eunuch. Branagh has said that he made Cinderella ‘not a girl whose life is about waiting for a bloke’ and to some extent I agree with him. This Cinderella is a kind-hearted girl dealt a very bad hand in life who is trying to make the best of it.  On the other hand this is also a girl who puts on a very pretty dress, gets in a beautiful golden carriage and pulls the Prince. After this her life is most definitely better. Yes, there is absolutely suggestion that Cinderella will perhaps have a hand in ruling the kingdom and that she will have some influence but before they get married they are simply not equals.

In Short:

Like the 1950’s Disney animation Branagh’s Cinderella is a light hearted, easy on the eye, child pleaser and not an unpleasant way to spend 105 minutes. Leave any feminist leanings you might have at the door and you’ll have a delightful time.

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