Directed by Kenneth Branagh and released March, 2015, Cinderella had worldwide commercial success, making five times it initial budget. Given that Disney for some weird reason has released various other live action remakes of their classic movies, I was not surprised when they announced this movie. After the horrible remake Maleficent (2014) came out, I concluded that this was another post Disney Renaissance gag. Which means, that Disney will try and cash out on as many “modern”-ish remakes as possible using the glorious tool CGI. CGI is a nice sometimes but it must be used in moderation. Filmmakers try to create effects and worlds only possible through animation but fall short because CGI does not have the same magical quality. Sorry, it does not. There are, as always, exceptions to this (COUGH Lord of the Rings) but they are rare to be sure.
Back to Cinderella. . . I was skeptical upon its release. Why? Well, it has been remade SO MANY TIMES. How many you may ask? HUNDREDS. Filmmakers Georges Méliès and Lotte Reiniger, animation companies like Fleischer Studios and Disney’s Merrie Melodies and even famous stars Ginger Rogers, Leslie Caron, Mary Pickford and Drew Barrymore have tried to reinvent or give a different face to this famous fairytale. So, as you can imagine, I was not too excited. To be fair, I did not think it would be a bad movie. Just a forgettable one like all the others. Well, there are some exceptions. I do like the animated Disney version and Lotte Reinger’s Aschenputtel (1922).
In 1634, Giambattista Basile wrote the first original Cinderella in his Pentamerone in the then Kingdom of Naples. During that time, Naples was the leading cultural and political center of Southern Italy. One of the last remaining parts of the dying Kingdom of Sicily, the Italians during the Renaissance used Naples as one of the most influential capitals of the Neapolitan world.
Basile’s Cinderella differentiated from modern take on the tale in that Cinderella, or Zezolla, is technically a duchess, being the daughter of a prince who married her governess. The governess then used her two daughters to abuse Zezolla while her father traveled to the island of Sinia. At Sinia, a fairy gave the prince various amazing gifts for Zezolla who had taken to cultivating and living in a date tree. With the fairy’s gifts, she won the love of the king at his ball, who tries to bring her back to him three times so they can marry. On the third try the king found her slipper and in asking all the maidens to come and try it on, the shoe then betrays Zezolla and jumps on her foot. After that the king and her marry. (Why did she not want to marry the king? Maybe because he was old or unlikable. Why else would she keep running away?)
It was through Charles Perrault‘s Cendrillon (1697) the modern fairy tale took flight. Most of the familiar elements were there along with the lost slipper, godmother, evil stepsisters and stepmother and even the coach made from a pumpkin. There are slight differences. For example, Cinderella actually went to two balls and her stepsisters, after begging for forgiveness, marry wealthy lords.
Finally, in the 19th century Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm penned their take on the fairy tale Aschenputtel, in English called Cinderella. Here, there is an established relationship between Cinderella and her dying mother who asked her to be good and kind and God would protect her. Again, there are the similar elements of the well-known story except with slight differences. There is a very religious aspect to this story where Cinderella even prays three times a day to her mother’s grave to overcome her new family’s cruelty. Instead of a Godmother providing her gown and shoes doves, sent from her mother, give them to her on three different days. During those three days, Cinderella meets the prince who tries each time to have her stay with him. Each time she escaped him leaving behind a golden slipper the last time. After the prince finds her and puts on the shoe, at their wedding doves come down from heaven and pluck out her stepsister’s eyes as punishment for their cruelty.
Once the Brothers Grimm wrote their famous version of the tale there was no going back. Hundred’s of books, songs and films have emerged throughout the 20th century and I doubt they will stop any time soon.
Keeping all that I have said in mind, I will do my best to give this movie the credit it deserves, or the lack thereof. I think what is important in this review is not too see how well it surprised me or changed the story. Rather, one must look at how well it enhanced the original tale.
Considering how many times this story has been done before, I felt pleasantly intrigued by how director Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz told the tale. In the animated Disney film, Cinderella’s backstory was not all that important. Its main purpose was to establish setting and immediately lead the audience through Cinderella’s life as a servant. In this film, Cinderella, or Ella’s, childhood is pivotal to understanding the story’s drive and spirit. The mother, much like in Grimm’s Aschenputtel, gave the plot its heart and she had an established, loving relationship with her daughter and husband. It show’s the mother’s fall into illness, her death and how it affected those she loved most.
The movie’s theme “Have courage and be kind.”, Ella’s mother’s parting words, carried the story and showed the beautiful consequences that came in following its message. This story established early on that Ella would face incredible difficulties: the loss of both her parents, her slow spiral into servitude, and the mental abuse from her new family. How did she overcome these trials? Simple, by having courage to face adversity and being kind despite other’s cruelty. I would say that meeting the prince was not the supreme goal. (Goodness, and this is a love story.)
I felt while watching that instead it showed how Ella grew and became strong enough to face life head-on with gentleness and sincerity. In Abarat: Absolute Midnight the character Laguna Munn surmised, “Truw royalty is a state of the soul. It belongs to those who have the gift of empathy, of compassion, of vision. That’s how people are led to do great things, even in cold, brutal times.” (Pg. 118) Overall, the film tried to show that Ella grew into someone worthy of royalty.
PLOT EXECUTION: 5/5
Again, originality is an almost impossibility for this story. In other words, people have redone Cinderella so many times that creating some new twist really is not conceivable. What is important is how well the story conveyed its message and its heart. (Talking about the plot while not focusing on its execution was hard. Sorry if I am not doing a good job. . . ahahaha). I loved how this film unfolded. From the corrosion of Ella’s golden childhood, Lady Tremaine’s takeover of the house and the subtle pushes into Ella’s servitude, the story’s sincerity and breadth kept my attention.
The story felt believable. The character’s problems were more than just lines from an over-used script. Several scenes in particular actually brought me to tears. First, was Ella’s mother’s death where not only did she lose such a beloved family member but the magic of her childhood. When Ella and her parents embraced it truly felt tragic.
There was also Lady Tremaine’s final confirmed rejection of Ella. For this particular scene, Ella attempted to sit at the table with her stepsisters and stepmother but it quickly turned against her.
Lady Tremaine: [points at Ella’s breakfast plate] Who’s this for? Is there someone we’ve forgotten?
Cinderella: [smiles] It’s my place.
Lady Tremaine: Oh, it seems too much to expect you to prepare breakfast, serve it and to sit with us. Wouldn’t you prefer to eat when all the work is done, Ella? Or should I say, Cinderella? Hmm?
She quietly leaves her laughing family into the kitchens where she accidentally drops the dishes and crouches over the table weeping. I emphasized with her pain. I actually thought about how far she had come from the happy child laughing in a green field with her parents. This was her breaking point, where she finally acknowledged her pain.
Lastly, the most surprising scene from the film and also my favorite, Kit has a final moment with his father. In it, they talk not as a king and prince but as father and son. Kit, knowing his father will die very soon, cries, curls up on the bed and lays his head on his father’s chest like a little boy. It is so rare to see men act vulnerable on screen. It hit me hard and actually established Kit as a human being and not just the answer to Ella’s problems.
Lily James portrayal of Ella was simple and sweet with just a touch of elegance. The character of Cinderella does not really call for anything special, but I think James did well considering. I loved her sincerity and how she interacted with the other characters. Many were probably hoping that some secret dark side of her personality would spring up, but truthfully that would have been dumb. The main message of the original tale, according to Perrault, was “Beauty is a treasure, but graciousness is priceless. Without it, nothing is possible; with it, one can do anything.” (“Perrault: Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper”. Pitt.edu. 2003-10-08.) I have seen some renditions of the tale which change this message for the sake of originality and I think that is a mistake. In this film, she was caring, thoughtful and overall loyal to her mother’s wishes. If I had daughters I would hope that they would model themselves after this character.
The Prince, or Kit, played by Richard Madden again surprised me by the film’s end. Most prince characters are BORING. I really do believe this is because they serve no other purpose than to save our heroine and marry them once the danger is over. Think back to Disney’s animated Prince Charming. What did he do in the film? Well, he danced with her, ran after her till she reached the carriage and that is the last you see of him until the end where he and Cinderella get married. That is why I found villains more interesting. That aside, I like Madden’s take on the character. He thought about his actions and when looking for Ella before the ball did not say outright, “I am in love!!!!”. After their first meeting, it seemed he was intrigued by her goodness, the beginnings of love stirring a little and escalating from there. Though their courtship was short, I liked it and found it believably sweet. The end also eluded to their growing relationship after their marriage. (What! Love is developed even after marriage? I thought it was a disease!)
That brings us further to his relationship with the king, played by Derek Jacobi, critically acclaimed for multiple interpretations of Shakespearean plays, The King’s Speech (2010) and Gladiator (2000). Like I said, they have a intimate relationship. They talk to each other and listen to the other’s advice. The king was also dying and wanted his son to have someone to support him after his death. He did not outright criticize his son for his thoughts about Ella and after he met her accepted her as long as she could make his son happy. He added an extra layer to the film not seen before in other versions.
Also, Cate Blanchett played Lady Tramaine beautifully. Elegant, suave and devilishly charming she showed the Lady as a product of her time, always in tune with the latest fashions and social circles, cleverly dressed and always pristine in her appearance. Her treatment of Ella, though inexcusable, had some depth and background to it. She became cruel out of jealousy and to hide her own pain at losing her husband. Though she played herself as a well put together lady, inside she bore some deep scars.
I could go on and on and on about how much I loved the casting. Hayley Atwell actually gave Cinderella’s mother a face and needed personality, Ben Chaplin showed the deep relationship Ella had with her father and Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera were beleivably selfish and impish. I liked most of the characters and their respected actors and actresses a lot. There were just a few that. . . I did not find believable. There were the animals turned into the coachman and footman of coarse. They were not annoying or bad but I would have been happy if they did not say their funny lines and things. Also, I did not like Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother. She was too. . . herself? (Shrug?) I had hoped for a different take on the character beyond the clutsy, absent minded stereotype but. . . Eh. I guessed it worked.
Believe it or not, by the way, I did not mind the mice. (Hurray!)
The setting and effects are gorgeous. I remember in one version, Ever After (1998), the colors and overall setting was bland and dark. True, it took place during the 1500’s in the Renaissance but. . . the visuals were unimpressive. In this movie, the colors and overall ambiance of the story just took my breath away at times. My favorite aspect of its setting was actually the palace. I think they meant to put the film somewhere in the Neo-Classical Period during the 1830’s. It was SOOOOO nice to see how true they were to the history and look of the time period. I felt like I had been transported into the past. Everything just glows! The scene where her dress changes also blew me away. Though it was changed through the magic of CGI it truly was beautiful. The dress makers, by the way, did an amazing job designing her dress.
The dance in the ballroom was a truly wonderful scene. Angelica King Shaw noted in her article for the CCHS school newspaper,
A very memorable scene from the film is the ballroom scene. When the camera pans out over the balcony into the ballroom it is an entrancing view of the ball where everyone is dressed to the nines. Lily James sparkled in a very blue dress that was different from the traditional Disney one, but flowed effortlessly. Prince Charming looked dashing. A part of me wanted them to never stop twirling around the gigantic room.
I did not want the dance to end really. It was well choreographed, shot and so much work went into its overall setting from the long spiraling staircase, hand-lit chandeliers, and overwhelming cast preparations.
The music was lovely. I kept humming some of the songs days after I watched the movie. Its writer Patrick Doyle has done a few famous-ish scores like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), Henry V (1989) and Sense and Sensibility (1995). For this film, its best aspect was how well it enhanced and set scenes, especially those with deep emotion. “Lavender’s Blue”, the main musical theme, is actually an English Folk song and Nursery rhyme from the 17th century. The ballroom dance was also really memorable for me. Overall, I cannot say much more about the music beyond that it fit the overall feeling and setting magnificently.
PERSONAL ENJOYMENT: 5/5
This is not a masterpiece, but it is a truly beautiful, heartwarming and thought-provoking take on an over-used fairytale. The characters are well acted, the scenes are gorgeous and the overall message goes beyond the same old “Love conquers all!” trope. Thinking about it now, this might be my favorite retelling of Cinderella. Will everyone like this movie? Probably not. Guys probably would not want to see a romance film and I think that haters will find a lot of mistakes and plot holes just for the sake of hating it. For myself, this is a movie I can only watch when I am in the mood for it. It is not my favorite but it is a very well done film.
OVERALL SCORE: 4.9/5
Ella’s Mother: Where there is kindness, there is goodness. And where there is goodness, there is magic.
King: Oh, you’ve come. Good.
Kit: Oh, Father. Don’t go.
King: I must. You needn’t be alone. Take a bride. The Princess Chelina. What if I commanded you to do so?
Kit: I love and respect you, but I will not. I believe that we need not look outside of our borders for strength or guidance. What we need is right before us. And we need only have courage and be kind to see it.
King: Just so. You’ve become your own man. Good. And perhaps, in the little time left to me, I can become the father you deserve. You must not marry for advantage. You must marry for love. Find that girl. Find her. The one they’re all talking about. The forgetful one who loses her shoes…loses her shoes.
King: Oh, be cheerful, boy.
Kit: Thank you, Father.
King: Thank you, Kit. I love you, son.
Kit: I love you, Father.
Ella: Why are you so cruel? I don’t understand it. I’ve tried to be kind to you.
Lady Tremaine: You? Kind to me?
Ella: Yes. And though no one deserves to be treated as you have treated me. Why do you do it? Why? Why?
Lady Tremaine: Because you are young, and innocent, and good. And I…