Director: Kenneth Branagh
Stars: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden
Released: 27th March 2015 (UK)
Cinderella is exactly what movies ought to be: magical. It is what movies have forgotten how to be. This old-fashioned, beautifully imagined film is based on perhaps the most widely known fairy tale. It is also perhaps the only live-action film version that is in love with its story.
Remember when we loved listening to ‘stories’? That satisfying feeling you get when a story ends with a happily-ever-after. It can never grow old. There’s something about these timeless tales that could be told and retold and not lose any of its sheen.
The film begins with a short called “Frozen Fever” which catches on the Frozen epidemic that’s taken over the world and it’s quite good. Frozen was a delightful revisionist take on the Disney princess syndrome. While, gender equality is a personal battle cry, Cinderella is concerned with none of that and it’s quite a breath of fresh air. Not because it regresses back to the dark ages but because it has other things on its mind. Fairy tales weren’t just about unrealistic fantasies, they were about believing, in hope and in magic (not necessarily the kind that’s visible).
After Disney’s wonderfully animated 1950 film, we could have done without another Cinderella film for at least half a century. Purely because it would remain the definitive version. Andy Tennant’s Ever After (1998) gave it a new spin and it’s best not to mention that Hilary Duff film but you could mention Anne Hathaway. If you’re looking for revisionist glass slippers, Drew Barrymore would fit right into them or Anna Kendrick who was most recently seen losing her slipper along with the plotline in Into the Woods (2014). I could also make a case for Jerry Lewis’ Cinderfella (1960) but that would require a different article.
Lily James (previously seen in Downton Abbey) is a traditional Cinderella and quite charmingly so. She makes Cinderella a character that is strong and gentle at the same time. You know you’re making a good film when you cast Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine. She is exquisite, to say the least. She wears the lavish costumes by Sandy Powell like no one else could. Richard Madden (Robb Stark from Game of Thrones) plays the Prince, not just as charming but also smart and noble.
It’s been a while since I saw a film where the good characters in the film ask the bad ones that one question. “Why? Why are you so cruel?” It’s been a while since I saw a film, which tells the kids to: “Have courage and be kind”. The innocence and wonder of the world (and by extension, the movies) is gloriously in tact. It didn’t need to stoop down to a dark reimagining or changing the plot to capture our attention. I quote “Just because it’s what’s done, doesn’t mean it should be done”.
Kenneth Branagh has a solid command over drama. There are some moving scenes of death and tragedy. His Shakespearian roots are visible in every film he makes, based on the Bard’s work or not. It’s not just Derek Jacobi who reminds you of Branagh’s epic rendition of Henry V (1989) and Hamlet (1996), it’s taking a story already read and seen by us and giving us a version that genuinely understands the material. Truly knows the characters and the essence of the tale.
As far as the clichés are concerned, this film is not afraid of them. A wise man once told me, “A good story is a cliché well-told”. We live in the age of fairy tale revisionism, where we are told princesses waiting for a prince to rescue them sends out a wrong message to an entire generation of young girls. Well, to me, this is a generation of Twilight where the message sent is a bit more horrible. In this age, I see this film, which shows us a fairy tale… as a fairy tale. It doesn’t have to revise it. Before kids learn about feminism or the fallacy of romantic love, they need learn the importance of courage, kindness and love. Empowerment does not come from hating a gender but standing up for yourself, whether you’re a woman or man. It comes from recognizing cruelty and not succumbing to it.
Instead of further elucidating, I’d have Kenneth Branagh say it best:
“Not being a passive victim, someone waiting for a man to rescue her. That was not a message I particularly wanted to be part of sending out. She is empowered, good, thoughtful, strong. She asks questions about why her stepfamily are so cruel. She decides to stay in that house for a reason. She doesn’t dismiss the idea of service, thinking it’s not a thing to be ashamed of. And she’s really mature in the face of this mistreatment.”
Time will be kinder to a film like this one. It may not inspire passionate audiences right now but when parents want to show a Cinderella movie to their kids in the future, I’m quite sure, this film would be on top of the pile. Most importantly, this film is a happy film, a positive film. A rarity in today’s times. A chance to relive the magic of the movies. For what it’s worth, this is the best Cinderella film yet.