Ella (Lily James) is forced into servitude by her stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her stepsisters, Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger), after the death of her father. Just when everything seems hopeless, however, she meets Kit (Richard Madden), her kingdom’s prince, who must choose a bride at the ball.
We’ve seen several live-action versions of the Cinderella story now. Ever After, Ella Enchanted, Into the Woods, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, A Cinderella Story—I can go on and on. I get why Disney wanted to remake the movie. It’s a classic. It’s arguably THE classic, as Cinderella is the most recognizable of the Disney princesses (Fun fact: Cinderella was also the film that saved Walt Disney Studios from financial ruin in 1950). That being said, I can’t help but feel like we’re at the point of beating a dead horse with this princess.
The problem is this Cinderella really hasn’t changed since the 1950 version of Cinderella. I don’t mean that the story needed to change. The orphaned girl forced to do the work of her cruel stepmother and stepsisters until she falls in love with the prince is canon now. Still, there was room to add depth, particularly with Cinderella herself. We all know she’s kind, gentle, loves animals, and so breathtakingly beautiful that she woos the prince. But what else does she have? If you’re going to redo the story, give her (or the story) something new. Otherwise, it’s predictable, which means I’m bored. Example: Ella Enchanted had the “obedience spell” to explain why a strong-willed young woman gave into servitude and cruelty from her stepfamily.
But beyond the “been there, done that” character development and the occasional dragging (thanks to boring dialogue), this Cinderella is fabulous. And I put all of that praise on director Kenneth Branagh (You may recall he directed Thor and Hamlet). Branagh loves visual storytelling, and you can see that in this version of the classic tale. Every setting was elaborate and beautiful, as were the costumes designed by Sandy Powell. Specifically, I’d say the transformation sequence with Ella and her carriage and all of the scenes at the ball were my favorite moments of cinematography. They were gorgeous.
Another reason why I liked Branagh’s direction? He included other ethnicities among his cast, as you’ll notice in the scenes at the ball…
Not only is this a diverse fantasy world (an aspect I’d like to see in more movies since our real world is just as diverse), but there were multiracial couplings on the dance floor as well. And not once did the characters go into lengthy, expository conversations about why the world was diverse (because if you need that in order to understand the setting, then I’m going to go ahead and say you’re an asshole).
Addressing the feminist elephant in the room…if you read my blog, you know that I’m not exactly a fan of the Disney princesses. But I think Sarah over at LaineyGossip said it best: “Could it be more feminist? Yes, but there’s nothing wrong with its message, and it is more empowered than the cartoon, in which the prince falls in love with Cinderella because she’s the prettiest girl in the room.” And I agree. Because Ella at least meets the prince a few days before the ball, during which he notices her beauty but falls for her kindness.
As for the performances, the chemistry between Lily James and Richard Madden was good but pretty vanilla, which is expected for a family movie (The dance between them was a beautiful “sexless sex scene,” though). Cate Blanchett was amazing. She wore the hell out of her costumes and acts like she was born to play a villain. Also, I loved Nonso Anozie (Game of Thrones fans will recognize him as Xaro Xhoan Daxos), who played the captain of the palace guard and the prince’s friend/confidante. His dry sense of humor and role as the prince’s voice of reason was the right offshoot for Madden’s charming, smitten doofus (Sorry, Robb Stark. You have pretty eyes).
Overall, Cinderella is a gorgeous film with ridiculously detailed costumes and settings that look marvelous on the big screen. But the story isn’t anything new. It’s a great family film with good messages about being kind, but yeah…it’s Cinderella, guys.
For my radio review of Cinderella on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 33:19 mark).