With the imminent release of Walt Disney’s new blockbuster, live-action reimagining of their 1950 animated classic Cinderella, the film’s director Kenneth Branagh, producers David Barron and Allison Shearmur, costume designer Sandy Powell and stars Holliday Grainger, Lily James and Richard Madden, gathered recently in the regal surroundings of the ballroom at Claridge’s, to explain to the assembled press how they brought the magic of the much loved story to life.
“This film’s for everyone”, explained Branagh. “The story is personal to all kinds of people, so the level of interest in the film is high”.
The high level of public anticipation for the film was a point all present agreed on. Yet Barron said they remained aware of the unavoidable influence of Disney’s original animated version. “We wanted to do something relevant to today, yet remain faithful to the cartoon”. Pearson agreed that the spirit of the popular cartoon was ever present, especially when looking for the cast. “We were aware of the character’s histories when casting – but we wanted to expand on them, and Kenneth had very clear ideas where the casting was concerned”.
When talking all present were very sure of two contrasting aspects, which appeared to override everything else on the production – the outer look of the film with its highly visualised sets and costumes, and the message of inner strength at the story’s core.
“Trying to combine fantastical worlds with real situations is an unusual combination, and we tried to restrict our ‘magic’ to the fairy godmother’, said Branagh. “The cartoon had lots of mice and singing which we didn’t focus on so much as we had so much more going on, though the film’s music by Patrick Doyle is there and wonderful”. “As for the ‘look’, we wanted a blur of the 18th and 19th centuries, which Sandy and I agreed on”.
The costumes were obviously something Powell – who won Oscars for her work on Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Aviator (2004) and The Young Victoria (2009), felt strongly about. “It was a costume designer’s dream”, she enthused. “It’s a girl’s movie with so many women’s parts. The costumes were 19th century, though there were more recent influences as well. For Cate Blanchett (who plays Cinderella’s wicked stepmother) it was the 1940’s and for Cinderella’s stepsisters it was the 1950’s. Overall though the most important aspect was colour in order to appeal to kids”.
Madden, who plays the prince in the film was not – at least initially – so sure about the clothing for his character, nor indeed were any of the male members of the cast. “All the guys felt ‘silly’ in the costumes to start with. But I felt really good in them once I started and got into the character”.
The other most important aspect of the film, was its focus on personal power in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Branagh explained that the message of the story was about “inner strength.” Something which Shearmur enforced, saying that “the emphasis is on the inside, not the outer image”. James, as the heroine of the story, felt particularly strongly on this point. “My character was to have a generosity of character which appealed to me. She was a character I wanted to play, and I drew from lots of things for inspiration, like the stories I’d read when young and having watched the animated version. The film focuses on inner strength and is a truthful retelling of the tale.”
Madden enjoyed the development of the relationship between his character and his father the king (played in the film by Derek Jacobi). “There was a sense of humour between the king and his son. Derek was warm and fun, and I found that I could play off of him”.
Which seems an appropriate summation of Cinderella as a whole – warm and fun. Two senses which all involved with the project, hope that families will experience when it goes on general release.