Branagh, James Mine Magic in “Cinderella”

Branagh, James Mine Magic in “Cinderella”

Do we really need another version of Cinderella?  I didn’t think so until I saw Kenneth Branagh’s ravishing new rendition that’s buoyed by a reverent approach, perfect casting and a sumptuous production design that manages to create a magical kingdom that effortlessly straddles the line between fairy tale frills and realistic anxieties.  Ponying up a $95 million budget, Disney Studios spared no expense to add yet another solid chapter to their princess canon and it is one of their better efforts in recent years.  Not only is every cent evident on screen but the title character is brought to life in such an appealing, grounded manner, it’s hard to imagine why such a stink is being made about her being seen as a less-than-progressive princess.

Blog Photo

Though it’s hardly a fairy tale existence, it would be hard to imagine a more perfect life for young Ella (Lily James).  Her father (Ben Chaplin) is a very successful merchant and her mother (Hayley Atwell) is kind and dotes on her as they live an upper-class life that many would envy.  However, tragedy strikes when Ella’s mother dies while the girl is still young but not before she can impart a simple piece of wisdom – “Have courage and be kind.”  The lass grows into a beautiful young woman, living her life according to this maxim in everything she does.  However, her character is tested when her father marries and brings into their home Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), a social climber saddled with two dim, insufferable daughters Anastasia (Holiday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera).  Things go from bad to worse when Ella’s father dies as she is banished to the attic in her own home and made to tend to these interlopers’ every need.

Needless to say, it’s a familiar tale but Branagh, working from a screenplay by Chris Weitz (About a Boy), plays it straight for the most part, refusing to go the route of Enchanted with nary a snarky, post-modern jab in sight.  “Sincerity” is the watch word here and this approach pays off handsomely as it accords the tragic events the weight they need and the fantasy elements seem that much more magical once they appear in the form of Helena Bonham Carter as a rather stiff Fairy Godmother with a severe overbite.

The film benefits greatly from Weitz expanding upon the story of the Prince and his father the King. As played by Game of Thrones alum Richard Madden, the young monarch is kind, bold and free of any arrogance sense of entitlement.  He’s quite handsome as well making him the total package for our heroine.  It goes without saying that with Derek Jacobi as his father the bar is raised in the scenes they share. However, the veteran actor sheds his usual sense of gravitas, instead giving us a king who truly cares for his people, his son in particular and has no qualms putting their interests before political ones. He is a simple, good man and the final scene between father and son is very moving without ever being cloying.

Blog Photo

Of course Blanchett is good, a elegant nightmare in costume designer Sandy Powell’s gorgeous work, and while we may never sympathize with her Lady Tremaine, the actress brings enough humanity to the thankless role that we can at least understand her intentions.  However, in a sense the film rests on James’ shoulders and she delivers a star-making turn if ever there was one. She manages the not-so-easy trick of giving us a genuinely kind-hearted woman without ever making her seem naïve or insincere.  James is able to make us believe a person as thoughtful and caring as Ella can exist and she plays it in such a way, we feel protective of her.  However, there’s no need as when she must face the indignities that her stepmother rains down upon her, she does so with a sense of strength and pride that’s unshakeable.

In short, Branagh and James somehow have been able to breath new life in thisdog-earred fairy tale, creating a Cinderella that future versions will be measured by.    This in itself is a little bit of magic.

Comments

Login or register to post comments

-