As a big Disney lover and a huge fan of the Cinderella fairytale, this adaptation was one of my most anticipated film releases of the year. I firmly believe that nobody is ever too old for fairytales and that adults should continue embracing and believing in them, as they give us a lift in the dark chapters of our lives. I find it incredibly sad when people sneer and believe themselves above such fantastical nonsense because it hints that they’ve lost all sense of wonder and love of magic. That’s definitely something that I never want to lose.
The film follows the original Disney animated version’s plot almost exactly. It begins with Ella (Lily James) as a happy little girl with her mother and father living in a beautiful country mansion. However, the familiar fairytale trope of early tragedy strikes and her mother dies. As she grows up, she is happy with her father who eventually marries Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and she and her two daughters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger) move into the family home. One day, while her father is away, a messenger calls and delivers the news that Ella’s father has died. As Ella grieves, her stepmother and stepsisters are distraught that his death will cause them to lose their lavish lifestyle. As the famous story goes, Ella is treated as a slave and loses her bedroom to the sisters forcing her to seek warmth by the hearth at night. Her ashy appearance earns her the name Cinderella from her stepsisters.
One difference from the original film’s storyline is that Ella meets the prince (Richard Madden) in the forest before the ball. He falls in love with the beautiful innocent country girl who dissuades him from hunting a stag. He then decides to throw open the upcoming ball to every maiden in the land, not just princesses in the hope that she will attend. Another difference is the eventual unfolding of who the mysterious “princess” really is. In the animation, Cinderella’s stepmother has no idea that her stepdaughter has the other glass slipper but this version shows Lady Tremaine confiscating Ella’s shoe and smashing it before the duke arrives. The mice open the window of the attic where Ella is trapped and the royal party hear her sweet singing voice as they are about to leave, which leads to her trying on the shoe and having the happy ending.
The cast is full of faces from huge global phenomenons and if you’re very familiar with these shows (as most people are), seeing Lady Rose and Robb Stark as Cinderella and Prince Charming while Downton’s shy retiring kitchen-maid Daisy plays an evil ugly stepsister, does take some getting used to. Helena Bonham Carter’s performance as the Fairy Godmother is one of the best in the film. Perhaps Bonham Carter has been typecast to play beautiful, whimsical women but she does it so well and her arrival indicates a shift in the mood. She brings the light-heartedness and her magic adds the entire fantasy element. Richard Madden’s portrayal as the prince or “Kit” is equally moving. He is a down-to-earth guy who seems keen not to be seen as royalty and marries for love. This is, perhaps, a modern thread in the film but it gives viewers hope that true love is key to everything.
The lasting memory of the film is the beauty of the costumes and cinematography. It is a beautiful film to look at and the costume design is second to none. The stepsisters’ ballgowns are slightly pantomime-esque but even they have their own unique wonder. The ball scenes are mesmerising, enchanting and encapsulate everything that fairytales should be. Expect some production Oscar nominations!
Cinderella is definitely worth watching if you love stories of true love and triumph of good over evil. Branagh was hired after the previous director envisioned a darker version and Disney refused. Of course, a darker version would have appealed to those who believe they are “too old for fairytales” but Branagh’s version is for those who haven’t given up hope yet. The fact that Disney recognises that we exist promises good things for future adaptations of classic love stories.