CINDERELLA. Starring Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgaard, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Rob Bryden. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. 105 minutes. Rated PG.
This version of Cinderella is one of great charm, a pleasure to watch, entertaining and often funny, with some witty and wry lines – a film for girls of every age, young girls and old girls, but not one for boys of any age!
The screenplay was written by Chris Weitz, writer and director of several very entertaining films, including About a Boy, and directed by that fine actor, Kenneth Branagh. And the cast is top-class, Lily James lovely as Cinderella, Richard Madden making an impression as the Prince. But it is some of the adults who are entertaining, principally Cate Blanchett as a smilingly cruel stepmother (often wearing green, indicating her envy and jealousy), uttering quite ironic and cutting lines. She spends a lot of time promoting her daughters simply because they are her daughters, whom she thinks are rather stupid (and not incorrectly). Derek Jacobi is the King, Stellan Skarsgaard is the scheming Grand Duke, Ben Chaplin Cinderella’s sympathetic father, with a brief comic turn from Rob Bryden as the artist commissioned to paint the Prince.
The thing is, of course, that we all know what is going to happen. The pleasure is in anticipation and then the satisfaction of seeing how what we were expecting turns out.
There is something of a more serious opening to the film, Cinderella as a young baby, the loving parents, her mother’s death, the father and his travels, and the charming Cinderella making no objections at all to her father’s wanting to marry again. It is clear that she has not yet met her prospective stepmother!
All goes according to the stepmother’s plan when she moves in, installing the daughters, relegating Cinderella to the attic, not allowing her to eat with the family, Cinderella not allowed to do anything much in fact. But, Cinderella has great comfort in her four pet mice, the most engaging little animals on screen since that chorus in Babe 20 years ago. Their comic presence and some of their antics are very entertaining – especially in comparison with the stepmother’s big ugly cat.
Cinderella is certainly an energetic young woman who does ride off in frustration into the forest, encountering the Prince going hunting, pleads for the life of the stag that the hunters are chasing, and thinks the Prince is an apprentice. In the meantime, the Prince has fallen in love, telling his dying father and irritating the Grand Duke who wants the Prince to marry into foreign royalty. So, the ball is proclaimed, stepmother and daughters get their dresses ready, Cinderella being reduced to having to put on her mother’s stress and having stepmother berate her, mock her and tear the dress.
It is time for the fairy godmother to arrive – although it is she who has been doing the amusing voiceover. She appears as an old beggar at the mansion door to whom Cinderella is kind and, lo and behold, a transformed begowned blonde beauty, Helena Bonham Carter. She is very funny as she goes choosing the pumpkin, transforming the lizards into footman, the goose into the coach driver, and the four mice into the horses.
The ball is as lavish as might be expected as is Cinderella’s blue gown, her skill in dancing, talking with the Prince – but it is soon midnight and the spell is lost (except, of course, for the glass slippers which do not disappear).
Some comedy as everybody tries to get the slippers to fit, the cruel stepmother preventing Cinderella from trying – but, and it’s thanks to the mice and their thoughtfulness, that she gets her opportunity and, then, happy ever after. And the final credits conclude with the song from Disney’s 1950 film, Bibbity, Bobbity Boo. What more could one ask for?
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out March 26 2015.