★★★★ - A Disney-fied fairy tale at its most classic
Although it sheds very little new light to the genre, Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella brings back memories of the 'classic' Disney-fied films, eliminating the darkest elements and creating an all around feel good film.
Kenneth Branagh's take on Cinderella is about as Disney Princess as possible. It even starts with a 'Once upon a time', narrated by Helena Bonham Carter's Fairy Godmother, and may as well finish with a (spoiler alert) 'and they all lived happily ever after'. Branagh's film, even with its modern cast and superior effects, feels as classic and timeless as the original, animated incarnation of the film and does not attempt to be anything else.
Lily James as Cinderella and Richard Madden as Kit, the Prince
The tale of Cinderella is one of the most well-known and most enduring fairy tales. The titular character (Lily James) grows up loved by both parents, but after the death of her mother gains a 'wicked' stepmother (Cate Blanchett) who treats Cinderella as little more than a servant. One night a royal ball is held and every eligible maiden is invited, however Cinderella's stepmother forbids her from attending.
However, with some help from her Fairy Godmother, Cinderella arrives at the ball in a carriage made from a pumpkin and wearing slippers made of glass with the instructions to return by midnight. She meets her Prince Charming (Richard Madden) and dances with him until midnight, where Cinderella runs off and leaves one slipper on the palace steps in her escape. This slipper is Prince Charming's only clue in finding Cinderella once more.
How Cinderella deviates from the original Disney film (Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske and Wilfred Jackson, 1950) is the added depth and complexity to all the characters, as well as a decrease in singing and dancing mice. Rather than the 'love at first sight' dance so well known to the original story, Cinderella and Kit meet relatively early in the narrative and have a brief chance to meet and impress each other as people. The character of Prince Charming is given the name Kit, unlike his original incarnation, and becomes far more than the bored prince yawning before a procession of princesses with his own set of challenges.
L-R, Holliday Grainger as Anastasia, Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine and Sophie McShera as Drizella
The standout transformation from animation to live action is undoubtedly Lady Tremaine. Blanchett injects a level of cold vindictiveness into the character with just enough vulnerability under her ambition that the character becomes more than the archetype of her previous incarnation. This version of Lady Tremaine is not only a villain to stall our heroine's journey, she is a villain for the audience to both despise and pity simultaneously.
Cinderella is clear with the film's core message, with the words 'Have courage and be kind' repeated throughout the film. These words, said by Cinderella's dying mother (Hayley Atwell), make up the mantra that helps Cinderella endure the cruelty of her stepfamily. It might not be the strongest feminist update to a fairy tale (and that claim itself can be a bit of a stretch), but it is Cinderella's search to find her courage and stand up for herself and what she believes in that shows the strength of her character.
The live-action version of Cinderella is visually breathtaking, with a lavishness that can only be associated with a Disney Princess. Paired with a score inspired by 'Lavender's Blue' and with James and Bonham Carter singing 'A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes' and 'Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Bo' over the end credits, the film serves a piece of nostalgia for those who grew up watching the original film whilst somehow standing on its own as something of a classic.