What It’s About
Old World elegance and classic beauty combine for a charming retelling of “Cinderella.”
With an emphasis on lush panoramic vistas and lavish interiors, the movie is stunning to look at, but it’s far more than just a pretty picture.
A strong cast brings the Brothers Grimm fairy tale to vibrant life, under the attentive direction of Kenneth Branagh, Oscar nominee for directing “Henry V.” He treats the material with the same reverence one gives a great work of literature.
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The filmmakers tread familiar territory but add flourishes that don’t distract from the basics.
In the title role, Lily James exudes a purity and goodness that suits the role well. She is matched by the strength of character of handsome Richard Madden’s dreamy Prince Charming, aka “Kit.” They make a sincere pair that you can root for having the happily ever after. They have dazzling smiles, too.
While the recent Broadway production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical version felt the need to be politically correct and veer from the traditional storyline, this latest Disney incarnation respects the enduring qualities of a story that has enchanted females for centuries. A poor orphaned child becomes household help to her menacing stepmother and stepsisters until she meets a dashing prince, and lives are altered after they attend a royal ball. She flees at midnight, but the besotted prince won’t give up finding his true love. No need to tamper with this scenario.
The solid acting skills of such veterans as Stellan Skarsgard as the cunning Grand Duke and Derek Jacobi as the ailing King, lend credence to the film. The casting of two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett is a masterful stroke, as she perfectly embodies the cruel stepmother. She is wicked in words and deeds, but not histrionic. Blanchett captures the despicable qualities without going overboard. She looks fabulous, too, while her two spoiled, shallow daughters Anastasia and Drisella (Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera) are laughable cartoons. The trio of mean girls are formidable opposition for the nice “Cinder”Ella.
Lily James (“Downton Abbey”) makes a noteworthy Cinderella, fulfilling the fantasy’s destiny. She and Madden (“Game of Thrones”) are a captivating couple, not mere figurines.
Helena Bonham Carter looks beauteous as the Fairy Godmother, and the transformative scene where she works her magic wand is eye-popping.
The message here is be kind and courageous, well-meaning words for little girls to take away.
The screenplay by Christopher Weitz, Oscar nominee for “About a Boy,” strikes the right balance between light and dark, allowing the characters to be more dimensional and the dialogue genuine.
Branagh has opted to go “big” and it works. The royal ball is a visual feast, and the choreography by Rob Ashford is exquisite. The costumes, particularly the iconic blue ballgown as the centerpiece, are jaw-dropping gorgeous.
What Doesn’t Work
The filmmakers have freshened the traditional tale for a new generation, and it’s a smart, not cloying, rendition.
However, since I am squeamish about rodents, I think the emphasis on the “cute” digital mice gets carried away. I know they are Cinderella’s only friends, but ewww ... you know.
Nevertheless, the film delivers everything you want from a beloved story. You’ll believe.
Note: The movie is preceded by the animated short, “Frozen Fever,” which brings back the original cast of the smash Disney hit “Frozen,” much to the delight of the audience. It’s cute and fun, and features a new song — welcome news for parents who have listened to “Let It Go” a gazillion times.