Cinderella (2015)

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Film review of the fairy tale romance directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett and Richard Madden.

Action/Adventure/Fantasy

2stars - Fair/ passes the time

 

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Synopsis

Young Ella (Webb) lives a blissful life, with parents (Chaplin and Attwell) who love her and each other, in a charming family house, served by adoring servants. That is until her mother tragically dies. Years later, she has grown into a beautiful young woman (James) who is abused by her wicked stepmother (Blanchett) and her two horrible daughters (Grainger and McShera), who treat her as a slave. Her life takes a different turn when she accidentally meets the handsome Prince of the realm (Madden) who decides to hold a ball in order to meet and propose to her.

Review, by Jason DayCinderella poster

I don’t think I have ever watched a film and come away with a curious obsession with people’s teeth.

Actually, casting my mind back, perhaps Tom Cruise’s off-centre dazzlers distracted me during Top Gun (1986) and Clark Gable’s false teeth in Gone With the Wind (1939) could stop a civil war cavalry charge at a 100 paces.

Perhaps then I really am a movie teeth person. So, imagine my joy at seeing Branagh’s lavish, veneers-mounted fairytale, what with Fairy Godmother Bonham-Carters comic overbite dentures, Madden’s brilliantly Colgate smile and even James’ slightly bucked gnashers.

Cinderella proves, if nothing else, that one can attempt to make a movie entirely around dentition.

But enough with these periodontal perambulations and on to the film.

Well, films if you count the opening featurette Frozen Fever. It went on too long for me, but the assortment of children at the screening I went to, including many little girls in Princess dresses and tiaras, were absolutely thrilled.

One can imagine screenwriter Weitz having a Grimm Brothers tick-box list of the key ingredients to make sure are added to the mix:

  • Pretty heroine – check
  • Wicked but glamorous stepmother – check
  • Handsome, dashing Prince – check.

And so on and so forth. One would think that gives a writer the basis to stretch his quill and let his creativity run rampant, as countless other film-makers have done with fairytales.

But this is a very typical Disney film, rooted in the safe, money-spinning Uncle Walt tradition. Bonham-Carter even uses the title of the Oscar winning song from Disney’s 1950 version, ‘Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo’ as her spell. Story-wise, there is little new ground trod in this version.

The opening scene is disposable when it should be touching. Ella’s mother dies of an undiagnosed but convenient and beatific terminal illness. These scenes are forced through with a mechanical clumsiness until Ella’s step family are ushered in to mix things up.

The fun with fairytales always comes when the villains appear and we are blessed to have a trio of wonderfully awful women. Blanchett reigns in the usual hysterical excesses of actress playing stepmother’s, with steely glares, a honeyed voice and sudden, quick bursts of anger. Grainger and McShera (under-cook Daisy in Downton Abbey opposite James. Here, above stairs), hardly ugly sisters, are perfectly obnoxious and self-absorbed, with a unique line in ghastly clothing.

Not that they are alone on the dodgy dresses front: Bonham-Carter looks like she is wearing a wedding-cake creation from TV’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and despite the beautiful colour, James’ ball-gown billows so much she looks like a toilet roll doll.

But on the whole the $90m budget has been well-spent a stunning, cartoon-colour rich production. It’s refreshing to see that the male wardrobe has not been sidelined; the fellas are every bit as well adorned as their female co-stars. And when someone as esteemed as Dante Ferretti designs your sets, you know sumptuousness is not far away.

Madden (Rob Stark in TV’s Game Of Thrones) is a handsome if underused Prince Charming and James has the right measure of naivety and pluck to make her a perfectly acceptable Cinders, even if she goes get carried away at the ball and appear almost orgasmic at seeing her Prince (she must have clapped eyes on the ‘Happy Ever After’ bulging out in the front of his britches).

Perhaps she is surprised at his changing eye colour, electric blue when they first meet, then an unfathomable shade of hazel when he’s at his dying father’s bedside.

Branagh can direct a film with brio, verve and a keen eye for the cinematic and Cinderella certainly has that in abundance. But he always seems on surer ground with Shakespeare than with other literary adaptations (the abysmally wooden Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 1994, Sleuth, 2007). They lack soul and feeling and feel hurried and throwaway; Cinderella looks a treat, but at this ball, she’s there in body but not spirit.

See the official trailer on Youtube.

Director: Kenneth Branagh. Disney/Allison Shearmur/Beagle Pug/Genre. (U).

Cast & credits

Producers: David Barron, Simon Kinberg, Allison Shearmur.
Writer: Chris Weitz.
Camera: Haris Zambarloukos.
Music: Patrick Doyle.
Sets: Dante Ferretti.

Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgard, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Eloise Webb.

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