Kenneth Branagh helms a lavish rendition of the fairytale, starring Cate Blanchett
After an onslaught of spiced-up interpretations such as Jack the Giant Slayer, Snow White and the Huntsman and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, commercial filmmakers have finally woken up to the idea that audiences might not always want their fairytales rejigged. Kenneth Branagh’s live-action take on Cinderella has no desire to reinvent the wheel (or the pumpkin or the glass slipper). This Disney production is little more than a lavish rendition of the Charles Perrault version of the story, that was brought to life by the aforementioned studio's iconic 1950 animation.
Played with purity by Downton Abbey star Lily James, Cinders goes through considerable agony in the opening act, as both her mother (Hayley Atwell) and father (Ben Chaplin) are taken away from her, leaving her with stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and her two cruel stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger). It’s a risky strategy, liable to upset younger viewers before the movie has really got going, but to his credit Branagh doesn’t flinch.
While it’s all captured in eye-popping 3D, what follows is more akin to the traditional tropes of the tale: a handsome prince (Game of Thrones' Richard Madden), a royal ball, and a fairy godmother (a deeply dippy Helena Bonham Carter). Soon enough, Cinderella is spirited away to the festivities in the most beautiful dress you’ve ever seen (courtesy of triple Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell) before she scampers away at midnight, as the spell wears off.
Perhaps the story is too slight and familiar to be stretched over 105 minutes, but About a Boy's Chris Weitz peppers his crafty script with some surreal touches that'll keep you interested. Not least exploring what it might be like to be inside a carriage that's returning to its original pumpkin form at high speed. Played largely without resorting to panto-style theatrics – even Blanchett keeps the figurative moustache-twiddling to a minimum – the result is a pleasant surprise, and just goes to show: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
General release from Fri 27 Mar.