See Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter play wildly against type in an otherwise traditional fairy tale.
What's this, a good, old-fashioned fairytale — and one that doesn't rely upon shadowing a classic story in darkness, looking at it from a different angle or adding a twist? That'd be the latest version of Cinderella, one so close to the animated effort everyone grew up with, it's uncanny. Swap cartoons for live action, and you've got the gist.
Thankfully, this new take on a decades-old movie and a centuries-old tale doesn’t just lovingly revisit our collective childhoods, as enjoyably nostalgic an exercise as that is. This retelling stays faithful to the story as well as its spirit, spinning an account of transformation driven by kindness and free from modern-day cynicism.
Before she earned her nickname for sleeping too close to the fire, Ella was a ten-year-old (Eloise Webb) mourning for her mother (Hayley Atwell), and then a young woman (Lily James) witnessing the remarriage of her father (Ben Chaplin). Next, she's an orphan forced to cook and clean for her nasty stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and two shallow stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger), while wanting nothing more than a break from the drudgery to attend a ball hosted by a handsome prince (Richard Madden).
Where this is going is hardly a surprise, yet here familiarity is by no means a flaw. Though director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz have films like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and The Twilight Saga: New Moon on their respective resumes, they both show that they know a thing or two about fleshing out well-known worlds, particularly through casting and revelling in the details.
Any movie that boasts both Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter is already making wishes come true; however, using them to toy with audience expectations is a masterstroke. The immaculately styled Blanchett breaks bad with aplomb, and Bonham Carter is a breezy delight at the fairy godmother. While everyone else is more than fine, the charming pair of James and Madden included, the two great actresses playing against type are the real drawcards.
Well, them and the gorgeous surroundings they all find themselves in, with Cinderella a visual treat. For the character, the decadence of pumpkin carriages and gorgeous gowns may vanish at the stroke of midnight; for the film, the splendour continues regardless of the hour. It's not just Cinders herself who's as pretty as a picture, but the picture itself. If you really were to dream of a traditional fairytale world of grand ballrooms and sprawling forests, it would look like this.
That timeless approach may also extend to a heroine who largely waits rather than acts — patiently and purposefully, rather than as a damsel in distress looking for a man to save her — but never does the treatment of the tale feel regressive. Indeed, it's a funny state of affairs when retaining the essence of a classic can be seen as a welcome breath of fresh air. With Cinderella, its old-fashioned elegance is the glass slipper that fits the film just perfectly.