Movie Review: Cinderella

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A young woman who lives with her abusive step-family dreams of going to a ball at the castle.

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Kenneth Branagh, 2015

You guys know the story. Ella, a happy little girl who lives in a large farmhouse estate, loses her mother. Her beloved father remarries a widow of high standing named Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), and her new stepmother moves in, bringing two spoilt stepsisters. Then daddy kicks the bucket too, and the resentful, manipulative Lady Tremaine becomes more and more abusive by the day, encouraging her vapid daughters to follow suit. Soon the grown-up Ella (Lily James) is a slave in her own house. She does chores all day and sleeps in the cold attic at night. Her only friends are the farm animals (which, amusingly, she only assumes can understand her in this film, which gives her a touch of oddness that the dull character sorely needs). Her stepsisters give her the cruel nickname Cinderella after the cinders in her hair when she sleeps by the fire. When Prince Kit (Richard Madden) decides to hold a ball, Cinderella desperately wants to go, and with a little magic and the help of her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) she might just get her wish.

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It’s a huge waste of time for a movie this beautifully rendered to be this utterly pointless in every other aspect. Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella adds absolutely nothing of value to the original tale, storytelling-wise. In fact, it’s nothing more than a remake of the 1950 Disney adaptation of the story, down to GusGus the mouse. In order to pad out the film’s running time when the songs are removed, Branagh adds in three notes of characterisation: the prince is “rebellious” after meeting Cinderella, in that he wants to marry her but his beloved father wants him to marry a princess; Cinderella is told explicitly by her mother to be kind and brave, which explains her tolerance of the emotional and occasionally physical abuse she’s put through; and Lady Tremaine is jealous of Cinderella. None of these are remotely original concepts. The stepsisters are given a prettier makeover than their animated counterparts (a line specifically refers to them as “ugly on the inside”), but are otherwise much the same as ever. While there is a problem with equating unattractiveness with evilness, I’m not convinced the answer is to remove any different-looking women from the film all together. The only worthwhile addition is a relationship between Prince Kit and his captain of the guard, but that’s because said captain is played by Nonso Anozie, and Nonso Anozie is a) consistently delightful and b) an actual PoC with LINES! There is a commitment to filling this fantasy kingdom with PoCs in minor roles and as extras, which is…something, at least.

With the exception of Cate Blanchett, who plays Tremaine as cold and bitter with purpose, none of the actors are up to even the slightly beefed-up caricatures this film asks them to play. Lily James is, much like the movie, pretty but empty. She smiles and simpers her way through the film without the slightest hint of character growth. Richard Madden’s Kit is just as dull, though he has moments of humour with the captain and moments of actual affection with Derek Jacobi as his father. For some reason, Helena Bonham Carter narrates the film with perfect diction, but mumbles her way through her scenes, and there’s a bizarre Rob Brydon cameo that may, perhaps, be funny to small children in the audience. I doubt small children would be able to sit through the rest of this snoozefest. Literally the only reason I kept watching was the ridiculously sumptuous visuals. The costume design alone in this movie is a feast for the eyes. MVP costume designer Sandy Powell borrows bits and pieces from the entire history of fashion to create something unique. The film is enhanced digitally to make full use of every single splash of colour on display, and the locations are fantastic – while the pumpkin carriage and its temporarily human attendants are way too much, the scenes at Cinderella’s home and the ball are stunning. In essence, Cinderella is a gorgeous treasure chest with nothing inside.

Cinderella on IMDb

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