Cinederella

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Kenneth Branagh

Starring

Hayley Atwell Helena Bonham Carter Lily James

Anticipation.

Kenneth Branagh’s directorial career takes another unexpected turn.

Enjoyment.

Slightly eerie in its dead-eyed coldness, but you get used to it.

In Retrospect.

Could we really live in a world without postmodern irony? Maybe…

Kenneth Branagh’s refreshing, irony-free retelling of Cinderella with Downtown Abbey’s Lily James sliding on the glass slipper.

Imagine if the Stepford Wives banded together, pooled their funds and decided to make a movie, chances are it would possess more than superficial similarities to Kenneth Branagh’s primped, vacuum-sealed take on Cinderella. Recourse to irony, postmodern referencing or fourth-wall breaking humour are strictly off the table, and while there’s definitely something refreshing about watching a movie whose sense of sincerity is without reproach, its rictus, thousand-yard glare occasionally makes for discomforting viewing.

Among the Disney canon, the film harks right back to the early animated features more than it does to any recent live action offering, and it feels precision built for enjoyment by a young female audience, which in itself is laudable. It’s actually as if Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz have opted to remake Disney’s 1950 version, along with talking mice, a glittering sky-blue ball gown and the casting of Lily James as the title character, an eerie dead ringer for the hand-drawn rendering voiced by Ilene Woods. TV’s Downton Abbey is also a clear touchstone, due in part to the early/mid-century décor of the main house, but also the fact that there are significant casting overlaps and a stolid sense of aristo-inspired English reserve.

The film doesn’t strain to make an easy connection with an audience — the performances are all starched and theatrical, the sentiment often brazenly icky. This is a chaste, classical, white-bread fairy tale about kindness and virtue, opting to pass no comment on, say, modern concepts of romance, the power of the monarchy or heterosexual love. It does mean that watching it is a hair-trigger process of eagerly waiting for the ball to drop, like for the lizard coachmen to start rapping, the ugly sisters to make a reference to X Factor, the blast of an AM Radio-friendly showtune or for the Prince to roll out a consort of Corgis. But it never happens. Which is good.

We’re given a slightly vanilla romance with characters sharing pearly-white smiles and sparkling doe-eyes, but nothing that ever forces the viewer to sit up and think, “I understand why this film was made.” Indeed, the decision not to give the material a spit-shine only serves to magnify some of the plot holes, such as the notion that no-one in the entire kingdom would have the same size feet as the averagely-proportioned Cinders. It’s also strange that she’s never held captive by her evil step mother (Cate Blanchett) and two step sisters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera), free to escape them at any opportunity. Her reason for staying – to honour the memory of her deceased parents – is weak.

James, as the hapless beauty Ella, is the unflappable English rose, given little more to do that take the mild abuse thrown at her with a pinch of salt and just smile as often as possible. All other cast members are solid, and that includes Blanchett who always keeps the lid on her Norma Desmond-like pantomime dame role (essentially a reprise from her Oscar-winning lead in Blue Jasmine) so as not to outshine the remainder of the ensemble.

Published 27 Mar 2015

Tags: Disney

Anticipation.

Kenneth Branagh’s directorial career takes another unexpected turn.

Enjoyment.

Slightly eerie in its dead-eyed coldness, but you get used to it.

In Retrospect.

Could we really live in a world without postmodern irony? Maybe…

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