Courage and kindness, I think we can all agree, are valuable attributes. But do we need to be reminded of this obvious truism every few minutes? Disney’s new adaptation of Cinderella certainly believes so, sparing no tangential opportunity to slip it into conversation. Avoiding anything that might require a moment’s thought, Kenneth Branagh’s film is blessed with just enough charm to carry it through a fair few dull patches. This Cinderella will get to the ball, albeit slightly late and with a hefty mini-cab fare to pay.
Ostensibly live-action, it’s sometimes hard to tell amidst the garish colourisation. Every shot feels as if a child has grabbed a pack of felt tip pens and scrawled all over cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos’ lens. Once adjusted to the glare, a straightforward, sanitised telling of the classic fairytale awaits. The opening scenes show Ella’s (Lily James) picture book parents doting on her. Living in a little fantasy mansion out of town, she frolics around dancing in nature and playing with friendly mice. As anyone even vaguely acquainted with the last two centuries of popular culture knows, it can’t last. Soon her parents are removed from the picture and she’s stuck playing the servant to her wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and simpleton step-sisters Drizella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger).
Because she’s been told by both parents to behave with courage and kindness, this pleasant country fool bears their abuse without complaint. Forced from her bed, she sleeps in the ash of the dying fireplace, earning the insulting nickname Cinderella, one she strangely decides to adopt.
Only a prince can fix this, and she meets hers in the wood. Richard Madden could hardly be more earnest as Prince Charming, dressed in a jacket that appears to be made from leftover curtains. James at least fits her role, managing to stay spry and upbeat without ever irritating. She’s a little bit country bumpkin, but I guess that’s what royalty looks for in fantasy realms.
And look Madden does, misappropriating state funds to throw a lavish ball in which all the young women in the kingdom are invited to line-up for his pleasure. This sets the stage for the best scenes in the film. Helena Bonham Carter’s arrival as the fairy godmother leads to the delightful creation of a pumpkin coach, new dress and glass slippers so tacky they resemble Christmas cracker gifts. The transformation back is also breathless fun, played at tremendous speed as coach and crew crash into their original pieces.
Too much of the rest is a chore and the supporting performances can’t cover the difference. Blanchett delivers a few lines with pantomime glee and sinister glint. The rest of the time she sits in the background, a wasted opportunity. Drizella and Anastasia are hammed up beyond acceptability, and a series of cameos prove hit and miss.
Branagh’s Cinderella resembles less the original animated film, and more Disney the corporate behemoth. A shiny lifeless spectacle, it’s too bland to dislike. It won’t be remembered badly, though largely because it’s hard to remember at all.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Chris Weitz (screenplay)
Stars: Lily James, Hayley Atwell, Helena Bonham Carter