Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Chris Weitz
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård, Holliday Grainger
We cannot control the actions of others, as our only recourse remains the way we react. This demonstrates our character and the circumstance our protagonist finds herself in displays the values her parents taught her. This iteration of Cinderella uses the classic tale as its foundation but manages to add depth and substance to every character while displaying a beautiful level of sincerity.
Taught to always be courageous and kind, Ella (Lily James) attempts to maintain composure for the sake of her family home as her beloved father passes away. She must now live with her evil stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters. After meeting a young handsome man in the forest, she hopes to attend the grand ball in the hope to meet with him again at the prince’s ball.
I find it difficult to not be cynical when Disney puts out live-action remakes of classic animated films. Most of the time, they add nothing but filler and serve as an excuse to print more money rather than being an artistic endeavor by any stretch. The only one that has warranted its existence and has even surpassed its animated predecessor is this iteration of Cinderella. It manages to improve on the animated 1950 film in nearly every single category because it allows moments to breathe and gives each character a definable purpose.
The most critical exploration comes from the love story we should be hoping to occur in this fairytale. In the 1950 film, Cinderella and the prince share about two sentences with each other, but this iteration creates such a beautiful connection between the two because they interact before the ball in a way where they can authentically communicate. The affection brewing between them makes it understandable why the prince (Richard Madden) would ignore every other woman pining for his love and choose Ella. The electric chemistry built by Lily James and Richard Madden certainly helps in making a relationship where two meetings can set up a lifelong fairytale ending.
Every other character gets moments to demonstrate their intentions, including the stepmother. Typically seen as a shallow woman just evil for jealous reasons, this version of the stepmother demonstrates a woman, who had her heartbroken from a previous relationship and refuses to allow Ella to have any sort of happiness. It shows in the moments where she looks at Ella with her father before his death, where she realizes nothing she could do would supersede the place Ella holds in this household. She’s still incredibly petty, sure, but it gives more substance to the character. It certainly helps that the glorious Cate Blanchett portrays the character as well. Additionally, the king has more of a reason for his son to marry outside of getting grandchildren. He wants his son to marry for advantage because of the implications of their kingdom while the prince wants to marry for love.
Each moment of the film comes drenched with emotional resonance because of how lovable this iteration of Ella proves to be. The score by Patrick Doyle assists in creating such a vibrant environment and it reaches its apex at the moment where she walks into the ball and everyone’s attention turns to her. She takes the spotlight unintentionally, which then transitions to the first time she locks eyes with the prince since their encounter in the forest. Every word they share comes with a level of care and affection, where they’re nervous to talk to utter complete sentences. The moments at the ball further display why these two belong together, even if their status and class do not stand at the same level.
Lily James has been such a revelation in the 2010s and her turn as Cinderella makes it obvious no other person could portray this character as she can. She embodies the courage and kindness this character ascribes to and evokes such a beautiful level of elegance in her demeanor. James carries the emotional moments very well and with this role and she justified why this character could be brought to live-action.
Unlike the failed attempts in other live-action remakes, Cinderella manages to add context to the story which only enhances the overall narrative. In Beauty and the Beast they add all of this unnecessary information, which does nothing but make the film feel exponentially longer than its animated predecessor. Even with this version of Cinderella being 30 minutes longer than the 1950 film, the pacing works more effectively. By no means does it feel padded and instead it adds layers to things we never conceived. Questions about why the titular character stays in this horrible situation has a valuable answer in the form of what the house represents in her family. Similarly, with the dress, where it was made by mice in the animated film, this film connects to her mother in a touching way. Additionally, it let the mice be just a small part of the film rather than them being the co-leads like in the animated feature.
Sandy Powell never disappoints with her costume work and she creates magnificent outfits in this feature, which help illustrate each character. The stepsisters wear such gaudy outfits while the matron stepmother wears dark yet incredibly luscious dresses. The outfits for the male characters as well have a level of elegance and vibrancy to them, which makes them pop rather than be uniform in their look. While other characters held importance in their look, the most important of them all came in the iconic blue dress of Cinderella. It looks astounding, as it beautifully combines the love her mother gave to her with what will make her stand out in this extravagant ball. Top marks all around for these illustrious costumes.
Cinderella provides so much to love and it continually reminds me of the greatness Disney can produce when they genuinely attempt to enrich their stories. This iteration of this famous tale improves on practically every detail of the classic animated version and does so because of the care and compassion put into this project, which overflows into the narrative. A wonderful re-telling by all measures and one that makes me grin each time I watch it.