Matthew Hoemke

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Branagh Keeps the Magic Alive is Faithful Adaptation


Cinderella : ***


Disney’s update to the 1950’s classic animated feature is vibrant with wonder, spectacle, and packs a strong message for young ones; “Be courageous, be kind.” As far as the remakes and reimaginings that Disney has put out in recent years (the unfortunate Alice in Wonderland, and surprisingly good Maleficent), this is their strongest work to date.


It is an extremely faithful adaptation of their original film, right down to the cat and mice who play characters in this film. Actually, one of my key complaints is that the mice bits didn’t play all that well in this version and might have served better on the cutting room floor. The only real felt absence were the grand musical numbers of the original, but sit through the credits and you will hear this cast sing                                                                                                                                   each and every one of them (which was a nice Easter egg,                                                                                                                                 I must admit).


The casting of Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair was a real strong move. I tend to be a big fan of his directorial works (Hamlet, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Thor) because he finds and extracts the inner workings of the characters that typically already have a strong familiarity with their audience and presents them in a new way. You get an idea of what makes the characters tick. He does no different here. Everyone is familiar with Cinderella, Prince Charming, and the wicked Step Mother, but before this film they were simply names applicable to cardboard characters. He dives in and gives reasonable explanations as to why Ella lets her stepmother and sisters run her life so. He even gives Prince Charming a name, and compelling back story.


Not all the glory goes to Branagh, mind you. Most of these things stemmed from Chris Weitz’s lovely script. His works tend to be rather hit or miss for me, but he is on form here, and as mentioned above, he offers good insight to the character relationships that was never before present.


Lily James does fine work in the role of Ella, and really sells every scene. Likewise, Richard Madden is every bit as charming as his character’s name. Cate Blanchett is superb as per usge, and I loved Hayley Atwell’s small performance as Ella’s mother. The only real casting misstep is Helena Bonham Carter who hams up the screen for her major scene. I would have liked to see something a little more subtle from her. I guess I like my fairy godmothers less Jack Sparrow and more Glinda the good witch. But, I digress.


It also should be noted that this is a really good looking film. Branagh tends to fill his frames with lots of vibrant character and makes full usage of his sets (none more effective than in his Hamlet adaptation). The ball scene is extraordinary. It is gorgeous, and a delight to look at. He also really sold the transformation scene, which is a highlight of the film as one would expect.


My biggest concern going in was with how they were going to characterize Cinderella’s role as a woman and housemaid, but my fears were alleviated early on. Ella, in this film, is not a simpering, mindless girl just waiting for her man to rescue her as depicted before. She has a strong head on her shoulders, and voices herself often, and the only reason she lets her stepmother tear her down is in a feeble hope that through her own kindness towards her stepmother, she could someday get her to act with kindness as well. The ‘do unto others’ mentality.



This all ties in to the film’s message that is hit upon in the opening five minutes or so; “Be courageous, be kind.” A simple message that lacks any kind of complexity, yet in our world still carries a potency. At the end of the day, we need reminders of simple lessons such as this because, left unsaid “Be courageous, be kind” is good advice often not taken.


(Images courtesy of feministing.com and filmgamesetc.com)


- March 2015 -