Say what want about the supposed cynical nature of film critics, you could have heard a pin drop in the Berlinale Palast this morning when Cinderella entered the ballroom in her lovely blue gown. Kenneth Branagh’s live action retelling of the Disney classic might be a little by the book at times- especially when compared with some of Disney’s recent fairytale outings- but it is no less of a pleasurable experience for it.
Downten Abbey's Lily James takes the titular role and we begin a wee bit earlier than before. At a young age we see her lose her mum to some sort of illness and, a number of years later, her father chooses to remarry. It’s all a little dull up until this point, truth be told, but then enter wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett, obviously brilliant) and her two horrid daughters.
Ella (as she’s called) is one of those spoonful-of-sugar optimistic types, so she welcomes her new family with open arms. But when tragedy strikes and her father dies, Ella is left alone. Slowly but surely, despite her plucky demeanour, (Cinder)Ella’s dignity is chipped away. Then there's a Prince and a pumpkin and a godmother and a gown. We're guessing you know the drill.
Branagh’s casting is really on the money here. James is sufficiently lovely in the lead role; Helena Bonham Carter provides some laughs as the fairy godmother; Rob Stark (that’s his name right?) is perfectly charming as the dashing prince; and Blanchett, as you might expect, steals the show.
Three time Oscar winning costume designer Sandy Powell has a field day on this one too. Blanchett’s dramatically angular outfits cast plenty of interesting shadows and- as I mentioned above- there’s good old Cinders and her rather lovely big gown. It’s easy to feel immune to such things these days ( until today I thought I was too) but the ballroom dance really is quite striking. A sweeping old-school decorative marvel full of classic romance and yearning.
So a reasonable cheer should be directed towards Mr. Brannagh and his production team. It’s clear this one will triumph with its target audience when it opens next month, but there’s plenty of good stuff in there for the slightly more discerning viewer. For what little it’s worth, it was enough to brighten up one very jaded writer's day.