DIR: Kenneth Branagh • WRI: Chris Weitz • PRO: David Barron, Simon Kinberg, Allison Shearmur • DOP: Haris Zambarloukos • ED: Martin Walsh • MUS: Patrick Doyle • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Lily James, Hayley Atwell, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett
For viewers who are au fait with recent animation and fairy tale adaptations aimed at young children, Cinderella may come as something of a shock. Here, there are no winking jokes and pop culture references to keep parents entertained while their offspring awe at flashing images and oscillating soundtracks that will improve impossible-to-evade for years to come. No, what writer Chris Weitz and director Kenneth Branagh present us with here is a film that prefers to get by on its charm alone.
Charming it is. From the settings, which owe as much to the Jane Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et La Bete, as they do to the legacy of Marie Antoinette and Belle Epoque-era France, to Cinderella and Prince Charming, this is a film that entertains its audience by being as pleasing and inoffensive as possible.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, but Cinders’ compliancy with the demands of her controlling step-mother – masterfully played here by Cate Blanchett – and idiotic step-sisters does seem questionable to modern audiences raised in the post-feminist, post-Bechdel test era. Why in God’s name does she put up with them without at least resorting to passive aggression? To honour her deceased mother’s advice to always be to kind in this situation is to allow herself to be, at the very, least used.
It is the job of Downton Abbey alumna Lily James, who plays Cinderella, then to convince viewers that her core goodness is such that in spite of such treatment her spirit will never be broken. James is an excellent choice for Cinderella possessed with the kind of pure-skinned beauty and seeming lack of guile that could very much belong to both country girl and princess, and could no doubt charm a Prince into searching a kingdom for her.
Audience members aware of the fairy tale’s original metaphorical use for the glass slipper being the perfect fit for Cinderella’s dainty feet (they have sex) will no doubt be rewarded by the breathy ecstasy exhibited by James when Scots actor Richard Madden as the Prince (or ‘Kit’ as he prefers and if you really must) places the shoe on her foot. Perfectly safe for children to watch, it’s snortingly amusing in context.
Other joys to behold are the costumes worn by Cate Blanchett in a villainous turn as Cinders’ step-mother and the outfits worn by Sophie McShera and Holliday Granger as her step-sisters. Here, Blanchett not so much channels Joan Crawford as Faye Dunaway playing Crawford in Mommy Dearest, while wearing a range of acidically-toned New Look by Dior-style dresses – she really is quite fabulous. Meanwhile, the costumes her daughters wear appear to have been inspired by chi-chi lap dogs and made from discarded Quality Street wrappers. They too are fabulous in wholly horrifying ways.
These outfits though are not the ones audience members will have been waiting for. That privilege, of course, belongs to the sparkling blue ball dress worn by James when her fairy godmother (an oddly toothy Helena Bonham Carter) transforms her for a night at the ball. The blue glittery piece of silk chiffon puff with corset waist is meant to pay beautiful tribute to the gown worn in Walt Disney’s animated version of this story from 1950, and probably does. It also looks like something Sarah Ferguson, the notoriously badly dressed Duchess of York would have worn circa 1987 but, unlike, Cinders and her Prince, we cannot have it all.
Alisande Healy Orme
G (See IFCO for details)
Cinderella is released 27th March 2015