Cinderella (2015)

Posted by Joel Copling on March 12, 2015

For better and, in certain, mostly inconsequential ways, worse, "Cinderella" disregards what makes the story, most visibly famous for being one of the many Walt Disney brought to life via animation during his company's golden age, such a resonant one. It isn't about the sweeping romanticism of its love story or the transforming pumpkins and lizards or the imminently hummable songs. It's ultimately about the politics of a world in which princes must marry for the kingdom and chambermaids must know their place. These worlds cannot interact. This is background noise in the more commercial readings of the story (both the 1950 animated classic and this new rendition), but at least both interpretations nailed a sense of resentment toward such a system of thought.

All the elements are here. Ella (Lily James, good-hearted and kind, as it should be) is the single child of a mother (Hayley Atwell) who dies of a mysterious illness, years before her father (Ben Chaplin) remarries and falls to yet another illness while on a business trip. The young girl, who made the promise to be kind and have courage to her mum, finds herself at the beck and call of a wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger) who treat her like vermin. When she meets the dashing prince (Richard Madden), who must tend to his father the King's (Derek Jacobi) advice to marry a princess from a land far away in order to save the kingdom, a ball takes places: The prince must have his bride, and he chooses love.

You remember what happens. The prince demands that everyone, not just the aristocracy, be allowed to attend the ball. The chambermaid is forbidden to go by the equally jealous and resentful stepmother. The Fairy Godmother, here played by a game Helena Bonham Carter, arrives to transform everything in Ella's life to match that of a person born into royalty. Ella attends the ball, dances with the prince, and becomes famous across the land as the "mysterious princess" who charmed the prince into marrying him. The stepmother eventually figures out who this mysterious princess is, truths and motivations becoming uncovered in the process.

"Cinderella" is mostly just a lot of fun, but at least there is a sense of serious engagement in its more mature themes. Blanchett is particularly delicious as the stepmother, an icy disposition masking some real insecurities, while Jacobi's presence does a lot with a little as an ailing king who only wants what's best for his son. But this is, first and foremost, a movie about the delights of production design and costuming, the unforced, pleasant nature of Chris Weitz's screenplay, and director Kenneth Branagh's sweeping camera movements. This time, it's less about the politics of an archaic system of marriage and more about how adorable those mice are. That's perfectly fine with this writer.

Film Information

Lily James (Ella), Cate Blanchett (Lady Tremaine), Richard Madden (The Prince), Sophie McShera (Drisella), Holliday Grainger (Anastasia), Stellan Skarsgård (The Grand Duke), Nonso Anozie (The Captain), Helena Bonham Carter (The Fairy Godmother), Derek Jacobi (The King), Ben Chaplin (Ella's Father), Hayley Atwell (Ella's Mother), Eloise Webb (Younger Ella).

Directed by Kenneth Branagh and written by Chris Weitz.

Rated PG (mild thematic elements).

112 minutes.

Released on March 13, 2015.