After you've spent a number of years watching movies, there are a number of evergreen stories that you end up seeing several versions of... whether you want to or not. Some of these have been filmed and filmed so many times, there is no joy left in the retelling, no matter how "rebooted" or "darkened" the newest attempt may be. I personally have sworn off watching any other versions of A Christmas Carol, Dracula and Peter Pan at all costs for just this reason.
One would think the tale of Cinderella, the scullery maid-turned-princess thanks to a fairy godmother, a pumpkin and some unconventional footwear, has also been done to death. After all, over the years everyone from Julie Andrews to Drew Barrymore to Anna Kendrick have tried on Cindy's glass slippers, not to mention the iconic 1950 Disney animated version and all its video, theme park and Once Upon a Time iterations. Yet it is Disney that has gone back to the wishing well again this time, with a live action take no less. And as it turns out, happily, this Cinderella may be the happiest ever after after all.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh (who knows his ornate classics) and written by Chris Weitz (Chuck & Buck's Chuck, of all people), the newest Cinderella does not lack for opulence (expect Oscar nods for the sumptuous sets and Sandy Powell's gorgeous gowns) yet still feels grounded in, if not reality, at least a fantasy-tinged facsimile of reality. With no songs or talking mice, the story has more breathing room, resulting in a more gradual and believable transition of our heroine from darling daughter to indentured servant. And with an expanded back story featuring her rarely seen mother (Hayley Atwell), Cinderella actually has a credible reason to stay with her wicked stepmother, played deliciously to the hilt by Cate Blanchett.
As the title character, Lily James imbues her character with a lovely grace, innocence and period-perfect poise; her time as Downton Abbey's Lady Rose serves her well here. Her prince (Game of Thrones' Richard Madden) is sufficiently charming in the usually thankless role, and has some nice father-son moments with the King (Derek Jacobi). Stepsisters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger, The Borgias' Lucrezia) and Drisella (James' Downton co-star Sophie McShera) and the scheming Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård) round out the villains, but it is Helena Bonham Carter as the befuddled, bibbid-bobbidi-booing Fairy Godmother who practically steals the show, even with her curiously pearly white teeth and brief screentime (Carter also narrates the film).
While it does suffer the current movie malady of over-computerized special effects, this latest Cinderella is a joyous fairy tale treat for all ages, whether you've seen it all before or not.
MD Review: A-
Cinderella is now available on DVD and Blu-ray:
Review by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.