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CINDERELLA (review)

cinderella_ver2CINDERELLA

Directed by Kenneth Branagh / Written by Chris Weitz / Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett and Richard Madden

Cinderella: Yes, Stepmother.

Lady Tremaine: Oh, you needn’t call me that. Madam will do.

Kenneth Branagh’s live-action CINDERELLA story is neither a re-imagining of the Charles Perrault tale nor a pathology of classic characters we have seen in recent movies like MALEFICENT or SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Branagh’s story is that which we already know, and if you’ve seen the 1950 Disney adaptation (and I’m assuming since you are a a human, you have) then ultimately you have seen this story before. Only now it’s 2015 and we are still selling antiquated ideas of patriarchal gender roles to little children who are the target audience of this somewhat less than magical movie experience.

As Ella’s mother (Hailey Atwell) lays dying, she makes her daughter (Downton Abbey’s Lily James) promise to live a life full of courage and kindness. When her father remarries to Lady Tremaine (played by the incredibly talented and frightening Cate Blanchett) and she in turn brings her two spoiled and snobbish daughters, Anastasia and Drisella (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera, respectively) to live with them, those virtues of courage and blind kindness are put to a gruelling test, especially after her father dies as well, leaving Ella keep house and live in the attic. Determined to make the most of things, Ella passes the time by talking to a few magical farm animals and holding out that things will one day get better for her. In this case, it’s marrying rich and getting out of that hell house.

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The sets and the costumes are the real stars of this film (no offence to Blanchett, of course). Every location from the house in the country to the grand palace is dripping with detail. The costumes on Blanchett, who seems to be channelling a Joan Crawford MOMMIE DEAREST look with the harsh lines and push-up bra, work to convey the image of a stern and dictating matriarch. Her outfits seem to evoke the image of a 1950’s housewife with incredibly clean lines and bold colours. The polkadot patterns on the twins’ dresses in one scene comes across as anachronistic yet manage to work well because Blanchett’s costumes also appear this way. Perhaps this is a way of setting these characters apart from Cinderella’s fairy tale fantasy life where everything is full of kindness. Unfortunately, the biggest let down fashion-wise was Cinderella’s ballgown. It is completely underwhelming and basically looked to me like it was taken from the clearance rack of a discount New Jersey prom dress store. I have to say, I was expecting something a little more magical considering it was made with actual magic.

James’ performance as the title character is as bland as bland can be: very little was remarkable about her, but this is probably so all the young girls (and some boys) can imagine themselves in her shoes (or slippers). This is perfectly suitable for a story about a women who never stands up for herself and finds that marrying a man is the only way of getting out of her current situation. Barf. Helena Bonham Carter is the intrepid fairy godmother who attempts to impart a little magic and fun into the story, but her teeth are so distracting it makes it impossible to focus on little else. The lizards and geese she turns into humans to drive Cinderella to the ball are actually quite grotesque looking caricature’s that attempt to add a little humour to this bizarre situation.

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It always irked me that The Prince (this time played by Richard Madden of Game of Thrones) didn’t care enough about the woman he was supposedly in love with to know what she looked like, instead would only know her by having her fit into some magical confining glass slipper. In some half-assed attempt at modernity, the shoe gets placed on all of the people in the land, despite their race (because the Prince obviously is blind to that). The only exception is for one older woman, because it couldn’t possibly have been a senior citizen his heart belonged to.

CINDERELLA holds on to all these passé ideas of feminine and masculine roles, targets this story at a young audience who might be experiencing this story for the first time, but keeps a few sly adult-aimed jokes in for good measure. Its elaborate beauty just doesn’t make up for its failings, which do nothing to inspire or encourage independence in young people, at a time when it should. Still, now mothers and daughters can share in the same deluded fantasy that one day their prince will come.

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One Comment

  1. Yes, Anastasia and Drisella are definitely “two spoiled and snobbish daughters.” I wrote a short essay on the film called “The Power of Female Beauty.” If you would like to read it, here is the link: https://21stcenturyfilms.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/cinderella-2015/

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