Film review: CINDERELLA, from ‘Built For Speed’

The latest version of Cinderella from Disney is a classical opulent rendering of the fairy tale.  Director Kenneth Branagh has resisted the urge for post-modern tinkering or anachronistic contemporary references and delivered a straightforward telling that will please a broad audience.

Downton Abbey’s Lily James stars as the title character who, after her Father’s death, has been left to endure the cruel demands of her embittered step mother (Cate Blanchett) and her selfish, nasty step sisters (Holiday Grainger and Sophie McShera).  Having become their virtual slave, Cinderella earns a chance for some form of happiness when she is invited to the Royal ball where the pretty-boy Prince (Richard Madden) hopes to find a wife.  Those familiar with the story know exactly what follows as the film takes a magical turn with a Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), pumpkin coaches, lizard footman and glass slippers.

The Cinderella story doesn’t have quite enough material for a feature length film and there is some obvious padding here.  Most notably the film occasionally slips into Mills and Boon style romantic fantasy as Cinders and the Prince gaze into each other’s eyes.  These romantic scenes will provoke much seat shuffling from little boys who would rather be watching giant killer robots.

Lily James makes a very charming, attractive but unremarkable Cinderella. She asserts herself a little more than Cinderella’s past but doesn’t stamp her authority on the role.  She’s upstaged by Cate Blanchett who is deliciously evil playing the step mother as a 40’s femme fatale and Helena Bonham Carter’s who brings a wonderfully feisty comic energy to the Fairy Godmother.

Branagh has delivered a sumptuous-looking version of the story that harks back to the ornate technicolour style of the 1960’s.  The special effects that see vegetables transform into vehicles and reptiles into flunkies are convincing but done in a style that evokes the Disney of old rather than the cold precision of present-day CGI.  Too often, though, Branagh deprives us of a decent look at the sets and landscapes by indulging in extreme close-ups.

There’s a sense that this was a film designed by a committee as it features old school Disney style for nostalgic Baby Boomers and Gen x-ers, romance for the teen girls and cute quirky characters for the kids.  Branagh does an impressive job of balancing these competing elements without making any specific aspect indelible.

This is an attractive looking and engaging re-telling of the Cinderella tale that, despite offering little we haven’t seen before, doesn’t disappoint in any department.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Fairy tale/ romance.

Classification: G.

Director(s): Kenneth Branagh.

Release date: 26th March 2015.

Running time: 105 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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