Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madde
105 mins; Class U;
KRS Film Releasing

Disney is on a roll. Well, Disney has been on a roll since Mickey Mouse first navigated himself onto the world stage in 1928’s Steamboat Willie.

Some 87 years and innumerable successes later, the Disney brand continues to reinvent itself, this time with a series of live-action versions of successful cartoons from the studio’s golden eras.

There was last year’s Sleeping Beauty-inspired Maleficent; the recently-announced version of Beauty and the Beast starring Emmas Watson, Emma Thompson and Dan Stevens; and now, this, director Kenneth Branagh’s take on Cinderella.

A great actor in his own right, Branagh has always also been an excellent director. Whether dealing with Shakespeare (various), gothic horror (1994’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), superhero movies (Thor in 2011) or spy thrillers (last year’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), Branagh has the knack of telling terrific stories featuring richly-drawn characters created by excellent ensembles, and his first foray into fairy-tale telling boasts his usual trademarks.

If the glass ceiling isn’t shattered quite as easily as a glass slipper (a debate is currently raging over Cinderella’s waistline…), the director is also to be applauded for his quite modern and non-sexist approach to the story and character.

At the same time Branagh is completely comfortable with his swooningly romantic and unabashedly old-fashioned telling of the tale with its underlying message to be courageous and kind worn proudly on its sleeve.

The script by Chris Weitz does not only flesh out the characters, but provides great humour – with a seamless mix of slapstick and droll delivery; just enough magic and whimsy; and even some heart-in-mouth action courtesy of Cinderella’s midnight escape from the palace with a little darkness brought on by the shadow of death that permeates the opening scenes.

Lily James and Richard Madden make for a very attractive leading couple. In James we have quite the feisty heroine (the prince is smitten by her on their first meeting when, in no uncertain terms,she tells him that just because hunting is “done, it doesn’t mean it should be done”).

Provides great humour

He is never as twee as the character in and of itself can threaten to be. She is good and kind, but never a doormat; and it is easy to fall for her charms, not least in her scenes with her delightful pet mice led by the indefatigable Gus.

The handsome and genuinely charming Madden adds depth to his lovelorn prince, while a subplot involving him and his father the king (Derek Jacobi) is notable for its genuine poignancy.

Comic relief is wrought by Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera as the cruel and vapid ugly sisters Anastasia and Drisella, while Helena Bonham Carter gives both a dulcet narration to proceedings and a ditzy performance as the clumsy fairy godmother, purveyor of the transformation scene which works to a tee, mice and lizards and all.

Lording it over the entire cast is the exquisitely coiffed, perfectly made-up, gorgeously costumed and always sublime Cate Blanchett, all 1940s glamour as the wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine.

Another member of the new generation of three-dimensional Disney villains (as witnessed by Angelina Jolie’s take on Maleficent), Blanchett does not merely create a sneeringly evil woman – although she does a lot of evil sneering, and very well, too – but a world-weary character whose life’s ambitions have been severely thwarted while she brought up two rather vain and, it must be said, stupid daughters –and the comparisons to the bright and cheerful Cinderella drives that point home even more.

Branagh has also brought together a dream team behind the scenes. His frequent music collaborator Patrick Doyle is behind the uplifting soundtrack; while veterans Sandy Powell and Dante Ferretti (six Oscars between them) provide this fairy tale with the sumptuous costume and production designs that it truly deserves. Powell’s costumes are a marvel – from Blanchett’s magnificently tailored wardrobe to the ugly sisters’ gaudy and vulgar outfits and the prince and his entourage’s smart uniforms to the glorious fashion parade of ball gowns worn with sophistication and elegance by the vast cast of protagonists and extras.

In Cinderella, Branagh has created a beautiful, funny and poignant retelling of a classic tale taking us down a thoroughly enjoyable path of nostalgia, reminding us there is nothing wrong with some old-fashioned escapism in these rather cynical times.

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