There are some stories that don’t need explaining and I’m pretty sure Cinderella falls into that category. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t know the story of the girl with the glass slippers and therefore it was an obvious choice for Disney as they continue their conversion of their classic animated films into live action.
Of course, somethings have changed. The songs are gone and some of the characters are fleshed out. It’s an interesting fact that while many people have a problem of Disney’s depiction of its classic princesses, and I’m in no way suggesting that there isn’t many many problems with that depiction, their male characters are possibly even more one-dimensional. Do we know anything about Prince Charming? Director Kenneth Branagh and writer Chris Weitz have moved him past his bland roots and even gone as far as giving him a name. Richard Madden is an engaging presence and his slightly fleshed out back story makes you care about the character a lot more than his charming original.
On top of that, the evil stepmother, played by Cate Blanchett with the evil meter turned up to one hundred, is given a similar background. She’s no longer just a heartless tormentor, making Cinderella’s life miserable for the sake of it, but now an ambitious women who is just trying to find a place in a world that has at times treated her unfairly. While the film starting with Cinderella’s happy years with her mother and father explain her is determination to stay in the house she grew up in and answers in the simple question of why doesn’t she just leave?
Most importantly however, Lilly James is a charming Cinderella. It’s a role that could be so sweet it would make you want to puke, but she never crosses that line. Her relentless optimism makes you want to help her rather than strangle her and when she is being abused by her step mother and sisters you can’t help but clench your hands, wanting to scream at the screen in defence of her. Her relationship with the prince also feels a bit more real. A new addition to the script, which sees them meeting in the woods before the ball, gives it more of a grounding in reality. It makes this whirlwind romance feel slightly more real than just a shared glance across a ball.
And what a ball it is, if you hate everything else about Cinderella it is hard to deny that it is a gorgeous film. Everything from Cinderella’s perfect house to the woods that surround it looks like something out of a different world. While the ball is an over the top stage which you can’t imagine existing anywhere but in a fairy tale. Everything looks incredible and you can’t help but get swept along in the moment.
The film isn’t perfect however. While Helena Bonham Carter is great as the Fairy Godmother, her one scene feels like too little. She’s sparkles and brings a huge old dollop of magic to proceedings, that is maybe occasionally lacking at other times. To have her only provide that for the classic godmother scene, which is also wonderfully done, feels like a bit of a shame. The film also completely fails to do anything new. If you are looking for a feminist slant on proceedings or a new take on this classic tale then you are looking in the wrong place. It’s a fantasy world which sticks to the fantasy world setting and if you are vehemently opposed to that already, then this won’t change your mind.
Yet in many ways that’s what makes this film so enjoyable. You can go to the cinema sit back and relax in the knowledge that you are being led through a classic tale by a very competent pair of hands. It’s not going to change your world, but if you are a lover of all things slightly magical then it will charm you. I’m obviously not a seven-year old girl, which is primarily this films target audience, but I can imagine there are a lot of them out there who will go and see this film in the coming weeks and fall in love with this story all over again.