Miracles happen! I actually liked a live action Disney fairytale offering. It’s shocking after such dismal failures as Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland but I’ve always said if I was going to like one it would probably be Cinderella. As I explained in my previous post I am a huge Cinderella fan and have become a bit of a collector of versions over the years. To me it’s remarkable how the same story can be taken and molded in different ways with equally satisfying results. Each version makes choices on what it is trying to teach its viewers and how the basic tale plays out.
So what about this latest version? Well, I’m delighted to say I loved it!
It starts off differently than any other version I can recall by spending a lot of time with Cinderella and her Mother and Father. They teach her to be ‘kind and courageous’ in all things.
After Cinderella’s mother dies they spend time with just her and her father and then when he marries Cate Blanchett’s Lady Tremaine we see her try to elevate the house with parties and gambling. I don’t think I’ve seen a version with as much time spent with Cinderella, her father and Stepmother.
Lady Tremaine is very jealous of the relationship between her husband and his daughter and we learn later that it is because she once had such a love but he was taken from her. She feels she never got her happy ending which I thought was a clever spin on the character.
Blanchett is so good as Lady Tremaine. It feels like she is enacting her revenge on life on Cinderella and it makes her a deliciously complex and fun villain.
They stick pretty closely to the animated version (thank goodness) once the story gets going and I enjoyed seeing little easter eggs to the original throughout. For instance, she is getting eggs and is humming ‘Sweet Nightingale’ which is a number I love with the bubbles in the original.
Cinderella works very hard as always and she has friends with the mice who thankfully don’t talk but are just cute squeakers. Lily James is much better than I expected her to be as Cinderella. She is is fine in Downton Abbey but shines much more here. There is a warmth to her that reminded me of a young Kate Winslet.
One day she is out riding and meets the Prince who she convinces to not kill a magnificent steer in his hunting party. The Prince played by Richard Madden gets a fair amount of time here and I thought he did a good job. He wants to marry for love and maybe even a nice country girl which I thought was cute.
Cinderella’s kindness towards the steer is what impresses him the most and he can’t get her out of his mind. When his father the King insists he get married he proposes a ball where all the eligible maidens in the land can attend. This is, of course, a ploy to get to see and hopefully woe Cinderella again.
The announcement is made and Lady Tremaine and her daughters get right to work. The stepsisters are played with a lot of nasty humor by Downton Abbey’s Sophie McShera and Hayley Atwell and the costumes are magnificent by 3 time Oscar winner Sandy Powell (I think there are like 3 women who have won all the costume Oscars…).
I was kind of hoping the sisters would have the big bustles like in the original. That would have been hilarious but their costumes were so bright and colorful I enjoyed it.
Then we get to the devastating moment of Cinderella trying to go to the ball. In this the mice don’t make the dress and nothing is stolen. She refits her Mother’s dress in pink which makes Lady Tremaine all the more angry at Cinderella for both presuming to go to the ball, compete with her daughters for the Prince and for bringing up her Mother. She quite viciously tears the sleeve off the dress and Cinderella is devastated.
And this is what most people get wrong about this moment- Cinderella is not devastated about the ball and her chance to meet the Prince. She is devastated because the story her Mother taught her about ‘kindness and courage’ seems to have been a lie. It does not win in the end and that’s the hope which has been shattered.
Haven’t we all had such a dark moment where we are in need of rescue? Well, I believe like Cinderella if we are good people the rescue comes and so it does here with the Fairy Godmother played by Helena Bonham Carter.
When she’s not in a Tim Burton movie I really like Carter (such as in The King’s Speech). Here she is magical, silly and a little absent minded. I also really liked the way they did the transformation of the lizards, mice and geese. It was a slow change and you could still see characteristics of the animals in the final creations.
When I had seen trailers I didn’t care for Cinderella’s dress. The animated dress is like liquid diamonds, so beautiful but the way they explain is actually touching and the look grew on me.
The scene at the ball is gorgeous and there is genuine chemistry between the Prince and Cinderella. Mostly just a sense of freedom for our heroine and that she is getting a break from all the hardness in her life (don’t we all need a break from the hardness!).
As I said, Lily James is so likable in the role and you root for her without her feeling cheesy or preachy. It really does feel like she believes in kindness and courage and is trying hard to lead a good life.
I won’t spoil any more of it for you but I thought the way it played out with Cinderella and Lady Tremaine was brilliant and I loved how they handled the glass slipper sequence.
The supporting cast is all great and I liked there was a little bit of diversity for this kind of story. Stellan Skarsgard is good as the Duke, Derek Jacobi as the King and my particular favorite was Nonso Anozie as the Prince’s Captain who was funny in every scene he’s in.
There will be some who will claim Cinderella isn’t modern enough. That it doesn’t show an empowered independent woman and that may be true (although not in every version of the story). They will often claim it tells young girls marriage to a Prince is the answer to all of life’s problems. In my view that is the an extremely superficial reading of Cinderella and a story which has persisted in popularity since the Middle Ages deserves a little more pondering.
The reason Cinderella is powerful is because it teaches young girls that no matter what happens to them they should never give up hope. In that sense it is very empowering. In this version it also teaches us that kindness and courage always win over cruelty and deceit. Cinderella is not valued merely on her looks but her goodness and that is why she is rescued from her unhappy state. May we all have that hope in our dark times.
After all a dream is a wish your heart makes…
Overall Grade- A+ Content Grade- A+ (nothing offensive in this at all)
My youtube review