I’m still swooning after watching Disney’s latest live-action recreation of one of their animated classics. Just when you think the Cinderella story has been done to death in Hollywood, Kenneth Branagh brings us a beautifully directed film that will enchant people of all ages.
It sort of seems foolish to take a moment to describe what Cinderella is about, since it’s one of the most famous fairy tales ever told. This new version, which is very similar to Disney’s animated film with a few exceptions, stars Lily James as Ella, a young woman who must live with her cruel and power-hungry stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and shallow stepsisters (Holliday Granger, Sophie McShera), after her parents pass away. Ella is incredibly kind; she speaks and cares for the animals on her estate. She serves her stepmother and stepsisters despite how they abuse her. One day a ride in the forest takes her into the middle of a royal hunt, where she meets a young “apprentice” named Kit. Actually, Kit is the prince and heir to the kingdom, and Ella forms an immediate connection to him.
The Cinderella story is given a little more substance in this movie; it’s not as simple as it’s usually made out to be. There is more meaning to come out from the story, performances, and film’s imagery. What’s nice is that the movie doesn’t move to over-explain characters’ motives or hand it all so easily to the audience. That’s the most obvious when Ella’s stepmother tries to explain why she treats Ella the way she does. She can’t, either because she’s not quite sure herself, or can’t bare to admit it.
Moreover, one of my favorite things about the movies is that Ella is not a one-dimensional character. We get to meet Ella’s parents, and understand the two very loving people who created such a lovely person. Their love—even after their passing—gives Ella the strength to not just be kind but fight for what’s important to her. This isn’t just a story about a girl waiting to be saved by a prince, but a girl who is kind, courageous and ultimately makes her own destiny.
Lily James shines as Cinderella. The actress plays Ella with the right balance of sweetness and sincerity. It’s a genuine and charming performance, and she carries the film very well. Richard Madden is dashing as the Prince, sharing a compelling and kind of sexy chemistry with James’ Ella. It’s no surprise that Cate Blanchett is great as the stepmother; she’s never over-the-top and manages to sneak in some vulnerability into the character.
My favorite scene from any of the Cinderella movies has always been the Fairy Godmother scene. This one lived up to my exceedingly high expectations. I’m pretty sure I want Helena Bonham Carter to be my fairy godmother now.
Cinderella is lush, romantic, and incredibly magical. It’s impossible not to fall in love with this movie. It’s story we know so well, but it manages to be something different, refreshing, and most surprisingly empowering.
Cinderella arrives into the theaters March 13, 2015.