Sixty-five years after the classic animated, original was shown at the very first Berlinale, Kenneth Branagh has brought the tale of Cinderella back to the festival with his live-action version. Following up previous live-action outings such as Enchanted and Maleficent, Disney are hoping for another hit on their hands with the retelling of Cinderella. The difference of course, is that whilst Maleficent is an alternative view on the Sleeping Beauty tale, and Enchanted was a chance for Disney to poke some fun at itself, Cinderella is actually a straightforward, irony-free telling of the tale, and unfortunately isn’t quite as enjoyable as its predecessors.
We follow the eponymous lead (Lily James) as first her beloved mother (Hayley Atwell) passes away, and then her father (Ben Chaplin) follows, although not before marrying the cruel Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett). Orphaned, and forced into a life of serving on her stepmother and her two boorish step sisters, Drizella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger), Cinderella seeks some solitude in the woods. Here she meets a handsome ‘apprentice’ who, unbeknown to her, is actually the dashing Prince Charming (Richard Madden). Forced to marry by his father the King (Derek Jacobi), the Prince throws a ball for all the women in the land in order to choose a bride, hoping that Cinderella attends. Although prevented from attending by her stepmother, with a little help from her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter), Cinderella shall go to the ball.
Branagh’s faithfulness to the original story is a double-edged sword, on the one hand evoking waves of nostalgia from its charm, and on the other being so sickly sweet and earnest we are dying for a wry smile or a nod and a wink here and there. One major departure from the animated version is the inclusion of Cinderella’s parents. Her dying mother’s last wish is for her daughter to be kind and courageous, and this sentiment is repeated by Cinderella ad nauseum throughout the rest of the film. Of course Cinderella is meant to be sincere and pure-hearted, and Lily James certainly embodies these traits, but the sheer earnestness of it all is quite exhausting. Thank goodness, then, for Cate Blanchett.
Blanchett revels in the delicious wickedness of the evil stepmother, imbuing some much-needed humour into the film. Costume designer Sandy Powell has done a magnificent job on Blanchett’s look, dressing her like a flawless 1940s femme fatale. Rather than playing the role out and out evil, Blanchett opts for a more passive aggressive route, which is somehow more cutting to Cinderella’s sincere personality. She balances the desire for her daughters to marry well while barely hiding her disdain for them. Credit is also due to the delightfully silly ugly sisters, whose constant bickering and sniping in not-quite-matching outfits, balance out the rather too wholesome romance.
Visually, the film is beautiful. With the stunning interiors of the palace, and the sweeping shots at the ball, Branagh has created a visual delight. Even the CGI works to great effect, with one scene in particular – the hurried chase back from the palace as the clock strikes midnight – ending in an eruption of applause from the Berlinale audience.
Although the main romance is a bit too sickly sweet, the film is Disney to its core. Balancing good and bad, with some added nostalgic charm and visual wizardry, Branagh has created a film that embodies the same feel as Walt Disney’s original, and which can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
Genre: Fantasy fairytale Distributor: Walt Disney Motion Pictures Venue: Berlinale 2015 Director: Kenneth Branagh Cast: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena bonham-Carter, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi Release Date: 27th March (UK)