“Perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take is to be seen as we really are”
Who knew what the world needed was a live-action version of Cinderella directed by Kenneth Branagh. It oughtn’t be as good as it is but somehow the fusion of Disney magic and folktale wonder comes together most effectively, thoroughly traditional in its outlook yet somehow still feeling fresh. Chris Weitz’s screenplay is based on Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon but both he and Branagh take lots of inspiration from the Disney version of the story too and the resulting confection is really rather bibbity-bobbity-beguiling.
There’s a cleverness too about what it does in spinning new details like giving us a reason that her step-family don’t recognise her at the ball and weaving much humour into the magic spells that get her to said ball. Ella herself is well pitched by Lily James, not quite too perfect to be true but still hugely appealing. It’s no wonder Richard Madden’s Prince Charming tumbles instantly for her (and she for him, those breeches…those boots!) and their chemistry is palpable, one can see why Branagh has cast them as Juliet and Romeo in his upcoming theatre residency in London.
Cate Blanchett’s Lady Tremaine (aka the Wicked Stepmother) is perfectly monstrous, a glorious vision in her Brief Encounter-inspired look but genuinely vicious of tongue to leave us in no two minds that this is a proper villain. As her daughters Anastasia and Drisella, Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera suggest misguided rather than truly malevolent spirits, and Helena Bonham Carter’s voiceover and brief appearance as the Fairy Godmother is warm and wacky in all the right places, the transformation scenes really are amusingly well done.
There’s a wealth of theatrically-inclined cameos too (I mean it’s Branagh, how could there not be). Derek Jacobi and Hayley Atwell are suitably affecting dying parents, Joshua Maguire and Richard McCabe pop up in the court and Katie West and Anjana Vasan pop up in Cinders’ house and the dance scenes, exquisitely choreographed by Rob Ashford, are full of familiar names including, natch, a Strallen (Zizi). Last but by no means least, Sandy Powell must surely be a shoo-in for an Oscar nod, if not the prize itself, for her vibrant and luscious costume work.