Monday, 30 November -0001

Cinderella

Cate Blanchett’s Wicked Stepmother would frighten anyone in this visually thrilling fairytale classic

Written by Barry Norman
Barry-Norman-176Whether or not we actually needed a live-action film of Cinderella is irrelevant because, willy-nilly, we have one, produced by Disney and directed by Kenneth Branagh – a sumptuous extravaganza that is always enjoyable and sometimes quite touching.

Some feminists have argued that it simply reinforces the myth fed to little girls that if they are pretty enough they might marry a prince, or a Premier League footballer or at least become the trophy second wife of some rich old man. And perhaps it does, for this is inspired by the traditional happy-ending story spun by Charles Perrault rather than the grimmer Grimm version.

Branagh and the writer Chris Weitz have slightly updated the tale without making it revisionist or in any way ironic. Here our wasp-waisted heroine, played by Lily James, starts off as plain Ella, happy daughter of a happy couple.

But then Mum dies and Dad, Ben Chaplin, remarries, whereupon enter Cate Blanchett as the splendidly icy Wicked Stepmother, along with her equally nasty, ugly-on-the-inside daughters, Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger. At first, life is not too bad for Ella but then Dad dies too, and boy, do things change. The family is hard up, so Blanchett fires all the help, banishes Ella to the attic and turns her into an all-purpose skivvy, henceforth to be known as Cinderella because she has ash on her face.

But despite her gross mistreatment, Cinders, remembering her mother’s advice that the most important attributes are courage and kindness, remains relentlessly cheerful, though her only friends are a bunch of mice.

But, of course, what the story needs is a prince and lo, one, Richard Madden, appears and meets Cinders in the forest. He doesn’t know her name and doesn’t tell her he’s a prince, merely that he lives at the palace, but still they fall instantly and mutually in love. And, well, we all know what happens after that. The king, Derek Jacobi, wants his son to marry a princess to safeguard the kingdom but Madden wants to marry the beguiling stranger he met that day.

So we have the ball, with all the maidens of the kingdom invited, the Fairy Godmother – delightfully ditzy Helena Bonham Carter – a pumpkin turned into a coach and mice into horses and the inevitable glass slippers or, rather, stilettos. There’s also a dodgy duke, Stellan Skarsgård, conspiring with Blanchett to deny Cinders the chance to try on the slipper.

Throughout, the film is a treat for the eyes – stylish sets, a clever use of CGI and gorgeous costumes designed by Sandy Powell. As for the cast, Lily James is a charming Cinderella and Madden a very agreeable prince. Jacobi and Skarsgård are good, too, but the star is undoubtedly Blanchett, whose Stepmother would put the frighteners on anybody.

So by all means take your daughters and/or granddaughters to see it but do remind them that it is a fairytale and that princes, Premier League footballers and probably rich old men, are in short supply.


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