Cinematic rating: 3.5 stars
Reel Dialogue Rating: 3 stars
Who has not heard the story of Cinderella? It has been told throughout the ages. In written form, animated, told on stage and as live action films. For those select few who do not know the story, here is a summary or refresher. Cinderella is a tale of Ella (Lily James) who lives a charmed life, but inevitably it takes a few tragic turns. The dire consequences of her father's poor choice to remarry after the loss of her mother causes Ella to suffer through the abuse of her step-mother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters. She finds herself as the indentured servant of this evil trio and despite promising her mother to "have courage and be kind", Ella begins to lose hope. In a twist of fate, she comes in contact with Prince Kit (Richard Madden), who is immediately entranced by her inner and outer beauty and makes it possible for all the maidens of the kingdom to come to the castle for the ball to choose a wife. This is where the magical spin begins to unfold. What would a fairy tale be without a fairy godmother, the love of animals and creative usage of garden vegetables? Ella makes it to the ball, but will this be a modern day retelling of this fairy tale that twists the story of love, kindness and evil stepmothers or will it remain true to the Cinderella tale told throughout the generations?
This telling of Cinderella can be summarised in one word, refreshing. Director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Hamlet) did not try to make a big political statement with his telling of the Cinderella story, no feminist rants or judgement of the political systems of the time. Also, there were no grand surprises, it was a sincere telling of a fairy tale. Love, beauty, kindness and evil were all portrayed without apology and straightforward. Men are allowed to be men and women are allowed to be women. Ella was a strong and appealing character, but managed to be portrayed with refreshing innocence. Lily James (Downton Abby) managed to toe the line between strength and beautiful fragility. Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) was masculine and delivered as a prince charming that did not take himself too seriously, but understood his obligations. Cate Blanchett pulls off villainy at a level that shows the greatness of her acting range. Also, even though she was briefly on screen, Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech) was perfectly cast as the fairy godmother. The rest of the cast, who are all regulars of Branagh's previous films, supported this lovely tale of young love and overcoming tragedy. The acting was supported by gorgeous sets and cinematography which allowed for a journey into another world. A world of recent European splendour and a magical forever ever after. Within all of the grandeur and beauty, there seemed to be some confusion defining the target audience. Sitting in the theatre with a multitude of little girls in blue dresses, it was hard not to notice that they were not captivated by what was on the screen. Why? Branagh's interpretation of this familiar fairy tale is for a mature audience. It seemed intended for an audience that would appreciate the deeper considerations of life, love and family. Which did not make for a bad cinematic experience, merely a shift in expectation and the provision of lines for many would be Prince Charmings in the future. For the sake of the audience it was intended, Cinderella has no objectionable material, but the mature themes of death and abuse might be a bit much for younger viewers.
There is overarching themes of kindness and courage in lives of the characters. Thankfully there is a balance to these themes and a reality that not all things will go your way in life. With the inevitability of these difficulties, the lesson can be found in how you choose to respond to them. Including the highs and lows of family, which is a deeper theme that is opened by Cinderella. It is seen in the portrayal of Ella and her parents, the prince and his father and even in the contrast of the treatment by Lady Tremaine and her daughters. Throughout Branagh's depiction of family, he is able to show that the deep love of family helps throughout the most difficult of situations. Love, kindness and family are not new elements to this sort of film, but there is a freshness to these familiar but classic elements. If you go into this film hoping for a new or darker portrayal of Ella's adventures, you will be disappointed. This is a fairy tale that delivers a magical journey that requires a suspension of disbelief, but will help to revive the most pessimistic in the audience, if you are willing to believe.
Leaving the cinema...
Do we need another Cinderella film? Sure, it was worth the time. Was it a Kid's Korner film? Not really. This Cinderella tale is for mature audiences that desire a bit of escapism. It will not be for those looking for a harsh dose of reality, but it was a refreshing telling of a familiar tale. Kenneth Branagh has found his key directorial niches. Shakespeare and fairy tales.
Bravo, Branagh, Bravo!
Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film?
1. What does the Bible say about death of a loved one? (Psalm 34:18, Revelation 21:4)
2. Why is family important? (Nehemiah 4:14, Ephesians 5:25)
3. What does the Bible say about kindness and courage? (Ephesians 4:32, Joshua 1:9)