Newcomer Lily James is Cinderella in this reinvention of the classic fairytale princess story.
The story is one that everyone knows — a young girl with a rich father is left to the whims of her evil stepmother and her two horrid stepsisters after the death of her father. The film sticks pretty close to the original story, which proves to be both good and bad. It’s predictable, which doesn’t leave much room for suspense throughout the movie, knowing what will happen in the end, but also leaves space for the audience to focus on other aspects of the film — namely the acting and visual effects.
Director Kenneth Branagh recently seems to be interested in films that explore lores and legends; this is not surprising, as Branagh comes from a traditional Shakespearean acting background. First enchanting us with Thor in 2011, he makes another solid fantasy film with Cinderella, incorporating both good acting (and good actors) with stunning visuals to make a potentially boring film feel fresh and exciting. Lily James (Downton Abbey, Fast Girls) is convincing as the princess, and Cate Blanchett melds into her stepmother role seamlessly. With a superstar cast with the likes of Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard Madden, and Stellan Skarsgard, Cinderella can do no wrong. Except… it can.
This movie suffers from the same problem that Thor did, in the sense that it is interesting and beautiful, but not captivating enough for a second watch. The story is complete with a nice red bow tied on top, packaged nicely without any real questions that challenge the viewers and merit a re-watch. Additionally, the movie recreates a fairytale that is a classic, but perhaps not classic enough for a remake.
The story features a princess who is simply waiting for her prince to come rescue her. This movie subverts the patriarchal tradition by placing more of Cinderella’s rescue on her own shoulders, allowing her the agency of defying her stepmother, instead of having the Prince literally come save her. The meaning is still the same though — it is hard to parse what exactly what Cinderella wants out of the movie, besides to be a wonderful, beautiful, animal-whispering perfect woman. The Prince is a man who simply wishes to find the perfect woman, which is Cinderella, of course… which is kind of the problem.
Cinderella inherently has few character flaws, besides maybe being too kind and self-sacrificing. This leaves her character flat and uninteresting, compared to her stepmother, whose wants and needs are very clear, but are masked by her ever-changing lies and masking sweetness. Even the character of the Grand Duke, not prominently featured in the original fairytale, has a more interesting motive and backstory than either Prince Kit or Cinderella.
Despite this, the film is not bad — it is, in fact, a lot better than I anticipated. Perhaps not the most original or riveting story, but Branagh manages to add enough twist and turns to keep it fresh. Helped along with great special effects and fantastic actors, the movie is surely worth a watch while it is in theaters.