It is one thing to walk out of a cinema not sure what is meant to have happened; it’s another to suspect the director wasn’t sure either.
Trap for Cinderella, which is a remake of the old French thriller Piège pour Cendrillon, has a complicated story. It asks searching questions of its director and screenwriter. Ian Softley, who handles both roles, struggles to give convincing answers. Superficially his picture is well enough filmed, cut and acted, but its pacing, tone and narration – its direction, in other words – is all over the shop.
Like almost everyone in the picture, Mickey (Tuppence Middleton) is a scarred orphan. We meet her, swaddled in bandages, coming around in the burns unit of a hospital. She’s disfigured, in pain and suffering severe amnesia as the result of a fire. Mickey recovers quickly and, thanks to effective plastic surgery, a pretty face soon emerges, for the most part unscathed.
Her benefactor is her recently deceased Aunt Elinor (Frances de la Tour), a fashion magnate of some sort, whose kindly works are adminstered from beyond the grave by her erstwhile PA Julia (Kerry Fox), a statuesque woman in her middle years.
We pause, briefly, to savour complex notes in Julia’s expression. They are not beneficent. As yet, it isn’t clear of what they are suggestive, but something is clearly afoot.
Mickey recovers so well that she’s soon happy enough to whip her top off at a moment’s notice, and we’re happy enough to watch it. Chief beneficiary is Jake, an ex-boyfriend whom she can’t remember from Adam in one frame, but is mauling like a jackrabbit in the next. This is an attempt to jog the action along, and it has the effect of undermining Mickey’s characterisation: jumping a stranger’s bones is an odd thing for a recuperating and psychologically scarred amnesiac to do.
As he drags on the customary post-coital smoke, Jake fills us in on the back story. He is surprised that Julia has not mentioned Mickey’s childhood friend Dominica (Alexandra Roach) whom Mickey also can’t remember, for Domenica (also an orphan) died in the blaze that disfigured Mickey.
Cue flashbacks, courtesy of which we see “Doe” and Mickey as children and adults. They are similar physically (though Mickey has a six inch height advantage) but in temperament they are chalk and cheese. Doe’s name seems, at first, to match her nature but in her eyes there is an inner disquiet which we imagine will have a hand in narrative propulsion. And so it transpires.
To tell its story the picture simultaneously runs three chronologies (the girls’ childhood, the pre-conflagration drama and the post-operation present) across two locations (London and Provence). Now the plot twists, with which the picture is amply endowed, start in earnest. The pacing picks up and Mickey begins to behave in ways that can only be explained by reference to imperatives in the plot. There are a lot of strong female leads in this film and since Mickey is inclined to disrobe at a moment’s notice there is a sexual undercurrent which feels forced and a little voyeuristic.
The blaze happened at Aunt Elinor’s villa while Elinor was dying in a local hospital. At Julia’s prompting the girls had been to see her to say goodbye, and the action switches to this road trip, precipitating another shift of gears, this time into the slow lane. Suddenly the girls are romping amongst floating backlit dandelions in the French countryside. The intrusively modern soundtrack switches to Spanish guitars. There’s lots of swimming. Mickey wastes few opportunities to show off her body, which is undoubtedly worth showing off. This certainly helps the time pass.
It is only when the girls arrive in Provence that the skulduggery begins in earnest. I feel obliged not to let on what happens, other than to say it is barking mad, involves a handsome but corruptible Provencale tobacconist, an E-type Jag and significant identity confusion which is not satisfactorily resolved.
I walked out bemused, and I suspect Iain Softley was none the wiser.
Trap For Cinderella is out in cinemas 12th July 2013.
Director: Iain Softley
Stars: Tuppence Middleton, Alexandra Roach, Kerry Fox, Aneurin Barnard, Frances de la Tour
Running Time: 100m