When her father unexpectedly passes away, young Ella finds herself at the mercy of her cruel stepmother and her daughters. Never one to give up hope, Ella’s fortunes begin to change after meeting a dashing stranger.
Does this film warrant a plot summary? Surely everyone knows the fairytale of ‘Cinderella‘, either through being read the story (written in the 1600s would you believe!) or having watched the 1950 Disney animation as a nipper. Wicked stepmother, ugly sisters, glass slipper, Prince Charming. You know the score.
Kenneth Branagh’s live action update thankfully doesn’t play around with the well-trodden, much-loved storyline, instead opting to add a preamble – giving us a bit of backstory to how Cinders ended up in the situation of waiting on her stepmother and stepsisters. Lily James plays the title character, quite the responsibility for someone in their first major film role, with fellow TV-graduate Richard Madden playing Prince Charming (or Mr Kit, as he introduces himself incognito to Cinders in their first meeting). While both play their roles reasonably well, neither are really given much to do and I found James in particular to be rather grating –particularly in her regular conversations with mice and singing the most annoying lullabies known to man (one called ‘Dilly Dilly’ – just awful).
The best roles in this are reserved for the ‘proper’ actors. Cate Blanchett is far and away the best thing in it as the wicked stepmother, spitting out every insult to Cinderella with gusto and clearly relishing every line. Similarly Helena Bonham-Carter plays herself as the fairy godmother, and is reliably excellent, with Derek Jacobi adding gravitas to a flimsy role as the King and Stellan Skarsgard hamming it up nicely as the villainous Grand Duke.
Branagh is building himself a nice reputation in fantasy and working with CGI, and this film’s box office return will do him no harm. How much of that is to do with the film being preceded by a short of ‘Frozen‘ (which incidentally was quite charming) can only be speculated upon. Nevertheless, the film is well made with all the children in the screening I was at seeming to enjoy it and buy into the characters (I particularly enjoyed the little girl in the row behind me asking her dad how Cinderella could possibly walk in glass high heels – an excellent point!)
Disney seems to be starting a trend of remaking classic animations into live action romps, and this is a good start. With ‘The Jungle Book‘ and ‘Beauty & the Beast‘ already in the pipeline, let’s hope for similar success.
Review by Richard Mason
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Stellen Skarsgard, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Hayley Atwell, Ben Chaplin and Nonso Anozie