KENNETH BRANAGH’S career continues to mystify me. In the early 1990s he was the poster boy for the RADA’s new wave, his peers included Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, and Jonathan Pryce, but it was Branagh who catapulted to fame first through adapting, directing, and acting in big budget adaptations of Shakespeare.
However, after Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, and an incredibly ambitious four hour version of Hamlet, people grew weary of his style. When Baz Lurmhan showed what you can do with a modern take on Shakespeare in Romeo + Juliet, suddenly Branagh seemed old fashioned. From there he struggled in Hollywood, appearing in the worst film ever made, Wild Wild West, and other forgetful stinkers.
Since the mid 2000s he has had some moderate hits and some clumsy misses. Whether it is for the pay cheque or a genuine attempt at trying something new he now directs Hollywood blockbusters. Some have been rubbish (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ) and some have been decent (Thor ). I was intrigued to learn he signed up for Cinderella though. He did always have a good eye for recreating classical texts and what is more of a modern classic then the ‘golden age of Disney’?
Lily James is Cinderella, whether covered in ash and cinder or begowned in the trademark cerulean dress of the cartoon, she just glows. She looks like Walt Disney was thawed from his cryogenic chamber and drew her. That said she does have a questionable relationship with household vermin (I mean it is cute in the cartoon but I don’t like to see her talk and mingle to rats in real life…they are still rats ) But I suppose even in Disney we cannot all be perfect and anyone with a waistline as small as hers must be a used to making unhealthy decisions on a regular basis.
James is everything you’d want in a live action Cinderella physically, but is never asked to do much more than pout, smile, and dance. Which, to be fair, she does incredibly well. Her Prince is played by Game of Thrones alumnus Richard Madden (The King in the North himself ). Thankfully the climatic wedding here is nowhere near as red as his last on-screen nuptials.
Branagh always attracts a quality stable of co stars. Helena Bonham-Carter steals every scene she is in as the Fairy Godmother, but the performance of the film belongs to Cate Blanchett’s evil step mother. She is delightfully evil and hilariously cruel)
With auburn hair and traipsed in gold and black, and with a cat named Lucifer, she floats through every scene dismissive and cold. She also has surprisingly honest motivation for her selfishness. Twice having lost a husband, she is really just trying to make do for herself and her daughters. Fair enough I say. That said she doesn’t have to be such a jerk about it.
There is no modern spin here, in fact it is unashamedly old fashioned. This is more of love letter to the original story and cartoon than a re-imaging or, the thankfully no longer in vogue, ‘gritty realistic remake’. This could not be released at a better time. It is a perfect midterm movie that parents will enjoy along with their kids. Note to parents: there is also a short film before the movie featuring the cast of Frozen that will no doubt attract almost as much fans as Cinderella itself.