Remaking a beloved cinematic property is always a dicey proposition, but when you tackle a beloved animated tale and give it a live action make over, then the dicey factor just went up by a factor of ten. And truly, that is what makes this newest incarnation of Cinderella all the more spectacular because it is a marvel that works on such an unabashedly earnest level that we not only buy into but embrace the story that is unfolding before us even though we know from minute one that it’s just a fantastical load of hooey.
A story we know all too well as follow the fortunes of young Ella (Lily James) and her merchant father who remarries years after the death of her mother. Wanting to be supportive to her father, she welcomes her new stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters Anastasia and Drisella into the family home. But, when Ella’s father suddenly and unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family who have renamed her as “Cinder-ella”. Ella is determined to stay strong and to live up to the ideals that her mother taught her about having courage and being kind, as she refuses to give into despair. A task that is greatly aided by the handsome stranger that she encounters in the woods, unbeknownst to her that her handsome “Kit” (Richard Madden) is actually the prince of the entire kingdom! When he proclaims that the entire population of the town is to attend the royal ball, she hopes to see her apprentice once again. However her hopes are quickly dashed when her stepmother forbids her from attending and maliciously rips the dress that she has been hard at work on. It seems hopeless for Ella, but that’s when Fairy Godmother’s( Helena Bonham Carter) tend to step in and save the day in hopes of a happily ever after
It takes one hell of a storyteller to give us a story that we already know inside and out and make us fall in love with it all over again, but Kenneth Branagh has done exactly that bringing his Shakespearean sensibilities to this fable to make it feel like such a huge, sweeping tale.
If there is anything to take away from this one, it is that Branagh knows how to shoot things in a big and bold fashion as builds a world that is worthy of the fairy tale. He adds layers upon layers to it all thanks to the rich production design that keeps us as an audience on just the right side of the fairy tale. The narrative flows very well and doesn’t make any unnecessary leaps and allows us to buy into the drama of it all at our own pace. Granted it is in and of itself a ridiculous story, but it all unfolds in such an earnest fashion that we never for a second doubt any of what we see. That is what a good fairy tale is supposed to do and it harkens back to the days of the classic Disney films, and while I’ll admit some of those classic Disney ideals don’t translate perfectly in the 21st century, if you can just suspend your disbelief for two hours or so it makes for a fun ride.
Stepping out into a starring role for the first time, Lily James as our Cinderella makes for a lithe and lovely portrayal of our heroine, even though much of the movie plays out a little too slight for it to genuinely resonate. She’s compassionate, lovely and kind but we don’t get an genuine grace or poise to it all. We like her as a character but secretly wish she just had a little more presence about her so that we could truly dive into the romance of it all. Writer Chris Weitz crafted a solid script but James was almost overshadowed by her villainous step mother.
Cate Blanchett must have felt like a kid in the candy store when she got this role as she was gleefully chewing up the scenery at every single turn. With a glint in her eye, she leans into this one hard and it makes for such a fun turn as the very nature of the character matches the look and the feel of this movie to an absolute tee. Sadly the performances in this movie kind of fall off the map after our two female leads because Richard Madden as the Prince, just didn’t have a lot to do and the likes of Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgård, Derek Jacobi, Rob Brydon, Holiday Granger, Ben Chaplin, a cameo from Hayley Atwell and even Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother, barely managed to register through the entire affair.
While this Cinderella, hits all the marks that it needs to and makes for an excellent cinematic experience it doesn’t feel quite right that all this effort and shine went into something that only a handful get to benefit and had the supporting cast be fleshed out just a tiny bit more, this very good movie, could have been great.