I love revisionist takes on the old tales as much as anybody, but Branagh serves up here a mostly traditional live-action take on the Disney classic and, much to my, and probably everyone’s, surprise, it’s a charming, elegant masterpiece. Let’s talk first about the wonderful cast. Cate Blanchett’s great turn as the wicked stepmother was obviously the centerpiece in any conversation about this movie and she is fantastic. About halfway through this movie, I just thought to myself, “Can we just remake every Disney movie ever with her as the villain?” She finds ways to humanize the character a bit and those moments are appreciated, but she is also eminently hissable. And a special word for Derek Jacobi who gives a wonderful, very earnest performance as the king. But the film really rises or falls on the shoulders of Lily James. Her performance as Cinderella is earnest, sincere, warm-hearted and charming. Had this central performance failed, the movie would have seemed cheesy and mawkish and, frankly, just stupid. But James knocks it out of the park. Her Cinderella might be too good to be true as written, but James finds a way to make the character utterly believable and empathetic. And can I just say that, as a non-fashion person, the costumes are deliriously great? And that dance at the ball? Cheesy? Pretentious? Stilted? No! Watching it, I was really swept up and reminded of just how seldom I have cause to use the word “elegant” when describing a movie anymore. Well, this scene deserves it. It’s as elegant and beautiful as they come.
Is the film problematic from a feminist stance? I honestly don’t think so; James’ Cinderella comes across as a living, breathing human being, first of all, and one quite willing to take agency in her fate. I have no issues with James’ version of Cinderella being a role model for young girls; she is, first and foremost, a person of empathy and kindness and, while I love that movies like The Hunger Games are telling young girls that they don’t have to even be particularly likable to be a valuable person, there’s something refreshing in the clear-eyed humanistic message of this film, a message that we can define ourselves as we choose, be better and kinder than those that mistreat us and be forgiving and generous of spirit even in bad circumstances. Hell, I felt moved by that message MYSELF. Again, these sentiments probably sound corny, but the film’s sincerity and beauty make these things work to perfection. Boasting sophisticated direction, a beautiful score (listen for a literal TRUMPET FANFARE when the Prince rides onscreen the first time) and, above all, a warm heart toward its characters and its audiences, Cinderella proves that the old stories endure for a reason. It’s a beautiful movie. 4 stars.
tl;dr – old-fashioned, sincere treatment of classic fairy-tale features wonderful performances, a sincere heart and a powerful, not-at-all cheesy message of kindness and empathy. 4 stars.