an enthralling magical experience
Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is an exquisite love letter to the timeless fairytale that we memorized from our mother’s lips, play-acted in school, and fantasized about coming true. With beautifully rendered ball gowns, sweeping vistas of the English countryside, the iconic pumpkin coach and other elements of quaint Victoriana (straight out of French illustrations, only in colour) this Disney movie is as visually delightful as it is heart-warming. In an age, where reinventing or reworking classics with fresh plot twists and elaborate CGI is the Hollywood norm (Alice In Wonderland, Maleficent, Oz: The Great And Powerful, etc)Kenneth Branagh’s faithfulness to the Charles Perrault tale deserves special commendation.
The plot linearly follows the swift postcard-pretty growing up years of the stereotypically beautiful and golden-hearted Ella(an adorable Lily James) in a lavishly decorated manor, with doting parents and animal friends for company. But soon, a mysterious ailment claims her mother’s life but not before Ella promises her to abide by the maxim, “have courage and be kind”. Subsequently her father’s remarriage to the widow Lady Tremaine (a stunning Cate Blanchett, perhaps less evil than Charlize Theron’s version of Snow White’s stepmother, but evil enough, nonetheless) foreshadows further gloom, accentuated by the pronounced cruelty of the beastly and spoilt stepsisters, Drisella and Anastasia. Finally, her father’s untimely death seemingly seals her faith as a scullery maid, forced to sleep with the white mice in the attic and be at her mistress’ beck and call. And with her pale face, dirty with the cinders and ashes of the fireplace, her stepsisters christen her as “Cinderella” and treat her with haughty disdain. Till of course, the fabled magic strikes..
Apart from Cinderella’s first meeting with Prince Charming(a decent Richard Madden) that seems connived, all other traditional elements including the glass slippers and midnight chimes fall seamlessly into place. Helena Bonham Carter’s brief but memorable role as an ugly-beggar-woman-turned-faery-godmother is handled with élan and eccentricity and there’s some exquisite photo-morphing involved as Cinderella gears up for her ball. And of course, the much-awaited glimpse of her elegant shimmery sapphire-blue ball gown is bound to have girls swooning for a dress like that in their wardrobes. Yet perhaps what is most breath-taking is how Branagh steers a predictable and universally-known story without for once inciting boredom or annoyance in the audience.
As the narrator remarks ”She saw the world, not always as it was, but as it could be…with perhaps a little bit of magic”.And maybe it is with this magic that Branagh has directed Cinderella, a family film that not only revisits childhood’s golden days but also celebrates them (albeit) in CGI-drenched splendour. Captivating, magical and ever so nostalgic, this is a movie crafted with love.
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Produced by: Simon Kinberg, David Barron, Alisson Sheamur
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter
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(Previously published in Voices, The Statesman)