Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"The reason Branagh's adaptation of the Charles Perrault tale is a success, is that it sticks fully to the formula of the story and doesn't try to do anything irritatingly postmodern with it."

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived on the edge of a wood. She didn't like pink (impossible when yellow existed) and never really saw the point of dolls - but she loved fairy tales. She didn't love them because the princess always got to marry a prince (although the castles always looked pretty cool) but because they featured interesting heroines (and heroes) who had some fabulous magical adventures and triumphed over evil. When she grew up, she became film critic and this month, she went on her own adventure to Berlin Film Festival, where she saw Kenneth Branagh's very traditional retelling of Cinderella (without the gory bits, as most of her childhood books had been) - and it made her think how much the little girl she had been all those years ago would have loved it.

That's a rather convoluted way of saying that the reason Branagh's adaptation of the Charles Perrault tale is a success, is that it sticks fully to the formula of the story and doesn't try to do anything irritatingly postmodern with it. Like it or not, children like what they know; spend any time with a person under the age of seven and you'll soon realise they love to hear the same bedtime stories again and again, delighting in correcting you if you get a detail wrong or skip a page. This is one of the joys of a story like Cinderella - everyone over the age of five in the audience has the delicious privilege of knowing that Cinderella and Kit will live happily ever after, even though the characters don't yet know it themselves.

Copy picture

If the fact that this is a Disney film doesn't give you a steer that this version is likely to be large on pixie dust and small on angst, Branagh makes it clear within the first few minutes that this is going to be a no-holds barred romance, quickly introducing his CGI 'chorus' of mice - who may help but thankfully never speak - and having baby Ella pluck a cloud from the sky to suggest that magic will never be far away. The story then proceeds in the way you would expect, with Ella's mum (Hayley Atwell) quickly off with the angels, leaving her dad (Ben Chaplin) to take on his social-climbing second wife Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and her two squabbling and idiotic daughters Drizella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Granger). The death of dad swiftly follows, leaving poor old Ella (Lily James) serving supper and with a change of name thanks to shovelling cinders until a chance meeting with young 'apprentice' Kit (Richard Madden) in the forest leads to the possibility of escape.

Sandy Powell's costume design is excellent, letting James' natural beauty shine through and favouring subtle shades of blue, perfectly in keeping with Patrick Doyle's score which offers sweeping variations on nursery rhyme Lavender's Blue. Against this, the jealous glowing greens and tainted golds favoured by her wicked stepmother and the clashy colours of her step-sisters' outfits stand out but never stray into pantomime territory. The production design is also opulent and finely detailed, with both of the film's pumpkin/coach transformation scenes full of energy and witty visuals, as horses sprout mouse ears or the coachman grows a beak.

The film does take a while to settle in, with early scenes involving the younger Cinders feeling laboured compared to what comes later, but the performances and flow all improve with the runtime. James - despite being an obvious 'bottle blonde' - is suitably sweet and hopeful in the lead, while Blanchett has a lot of fun with the step-mother's sneering disdain. Of course, everyone knows the real star of the show is the Fairy Godmother and Helena Bonham Carter - who also provides narration - arrives with the right level of magic.

Screenwriter Chris Weitz gives her the lion's share of the film's best lines, several of which, like many aspects of the movie, deliberately recall Disney's animated version of the classic, and she delivers them with warmth and humour. It's a shame Madden, as the prince, never really comes to the ball in terms of scripting, with his character not given enough strong lines to fully balance the charisma of James. This glass slipper may look a bit cold and uninviting because it's so familiar, but it is also - as the Fairy Godmother points out - surprisingly comfortable once you try it.

Reviewed on: 15 Feb 2015
Share this with others on...
Live-action retelling of the classic fairy tale.
Amazon link

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writer: Chris Weitz

Starring: Lily James, Helena Bonham Carter, Hayley Atwell, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Stellan SkarsgÄrd, Nonso Anozie, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Laurie Calvert, Eloise Webb, Leila Wong, Zizi Strallen

Year: 2015

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: US


BIFF 2015

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Another Cinderella Story