Cinderella (2015) Directed by Kenneth Branagh. With Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter and Derek Jacobi.
Kenneth Branagh has aligned himself with classic stories, over the years. From William Shakespeare to Mary Shelley, as a director, he’s proved himself a safe pair of hands for beloved material – so it seems a perfect fit for him to take the reigns of this live-action updating of the classic romantic-fantasy, Cinderella.
The film opens with a burst of colour and magic to set the tone. The role of Cinderella or ‘Ella’ as she’s called when we meet her, falls to the innocent-faced Lily James of Downton Abbey fame. James possesses a child-like aura that allows us to buy into her blind, optimistic romanticism, even as she falls foul of her resentful stepmother, played by Cate Blanchett.
The appearance of Game of Thrones’s Richard Madden as the ‘Prince’ of the piece is at one alarming – especially as he’s being pushed into an arranged wedding. Your brain screams – ‘I CAN’T TAKE ANOTHER RED WEDDING!’. Madden is fine, if not a little wooden, but, given the material he’s playing with, can do little other than what’s required of him, namely, being charming and handsome.
It sounds hollow to criticise Cinderella for being overly twee, but with this new push of live-action realisations by Disney, and especially under Branagh’s guidance, I was expecting some of that to be stripped back, with new life poured into the classic tale. A high-spirited Helena Bonham Carter is fun when she turns up, and Blanchett is a scene-stealer, but beyond the beautiful costume design and opulent majesty of the visuals, it lacks a vital sense of freshness.
There are moments when Cinderella verges on becoming truly enchanting, but it’s also played so safely, that it reduces itself to a bit of a chore, for the adults. But, if you’re watching this with your young daughter, whose loving gaze never flinches from the screen, you can forgive yourself for letting it off the hook. 3/5