VOD film review: Cinderella (2015)
Same old story4
Ivan Radford | On 28, Feb 2016
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden
Watch Cinderella online in the UK: Disney+ / Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
In an age of reboots, reimaginings and straight-up reversals, Kenneth Branagh’s live-action Cinderella almost appears bold by comparison: where others have tweaked, updated or subverted fairytale traditions, Cinderella follows them to the letter.
Disney’s classic has never been the most contemporary of stories – young girl laments her lot in life, only for a prince to rescue her, courtesy of some fancy footwear – so it’s a surprisingly gutsy move to retain that outdated, patronising narrative. Chris Weitz’s script, though, does its best to dress it up in new colours, placing an emphasis less on the slippers and suave Prince Charming and more on Cinderella’s own admirable ability to soldier on through her changed fortunes in a nice, forgiving manner.
Lily James is well cast as “Ella”, who earns her moniker after becoming dirty from cleaning the fireplace for her new step-mother. James is sweetness and light personified, smiling politely and always chatting to the CGI mice that litter her father’s estate. But that sugary quality often feels too saccharine to fully endear, especially during early scenes featuring Ella and her parents. Disney’s recent live-action effort Enchanted was similarly fluffy in nature, but a spoonful of hearty laughs helped the sugar go down. Its other recent hit, Frozen, was a celebration of sisterhood over swooning romance. With no progressive message and notably fewer giggles on offer, Cinderella finds itself in need of some grit.
Fortunately, Cate Blanchett is on hand to deliver just that. “She too had known grief,” we’re told, “but she wore it well.” The narrator isn’t kidding. Blanchett strides through the scenery with panache, an evil glint in her eye and a wicked sense of fashion draping off her slender frame. One late scene even lets her play for our sympathy, as well as our wardrobe envy.
Blanchett heads up a stellar supporting ensemble, from Game of Thrones’ Robb Stark (Richard Madden) as “Kit”, a genuinely charismatic prince, and Nonso Anozie as a knowing royal guard to Stellan Skarsgard as the kingdom’s sinister Grand Duke and Derek Jacobi as the hammy king. But even enthusiastic cameos from Helena Bonham Carter as a bolshie fairy godmother and Alex Macqueen as a town crier fail to conjure up any real sense of magic, despite the parade of enchantments that are at the centre of the story – including one standout sequence that sees Cinderella’s carriage transform back into a pumpkin, while she’s still inside it.
Branagh helms these moments with the flair you’d expect from the director of Thor, while the ballroom sequences frequently dazzle. But there’s never enough emotional substance to engage us, beyond Cinderella’s sparkling surface. Indeed, the film’s one Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design is no coincidence: Sandy Powell’s costumes prove to be the most memorable thing about the film. Old-fashioned without being timeless and modern without being fresh, Cinderella resists the urge to subvert its original fairytale, but that bold dedication to tradition occasionally leaves the film feeling bland and ordinary.
Cinderella (2015) is available on Disney+, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription or a £59.99 yearly subscription. It is also available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of an £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.