Lily James plays the eponymous lead, who is left orphaned when her mother (Hayley Atwell) and father (Ben Chaplin) pass away, leaving her vindictive stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) to care for her. Cinderella is consequently outcast by her new family, taking on the form of a servant, to both her stepmother and vulgar and imprudent half-sisters, Drizella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger). When tired and fed up of being mistreated, Cinderella sets out to the woods, where she stumbles across Prince Charming (Richard Madden). Upon this chance encounter, the royal is desperate to meet her again, so invites all of the women across the kingdom to a ball at the palace, hoping the beautiful, elusive stranger may show up. Though if Cinderella – banned from attending by Tremaine – is to attend, she’s going to need the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter).
The original story of Cinderella is very much of its time. Given it’s a folk tale that is centuries old, you can appreciate why that may may come with its own problems, such as the gender stereotyping, where marriage is considered to be something of a life goal, as women across the kingdom queue up just for a chance to be Prince Charming’s other half, considered, for Cinderella, as a means of escape. So with this opportunity there is the chance for Disney to update the tale accordingly, and take a leaf out of their own book, following on from Frozen, or Into the Woods, and adhere to a more forward-thinking, contemporary world. However Branagh has opted to merely remain faithful to the classic story is to the film’s detriment.
Nonetheless, there are positives that come with this distinct familiarity, making for a nostalgia-infused, and charming piece of cinema. Such is the affable tone and vivacious, good-natured spirit, that you are able to look past such flaws, and enjoy this for what it is – a family adventure that will engage and entertain both children and their parents alike, as one we can identify with and romanticise over, given we’ve all grown up with this tale. Branagh is helped along by the credentials of his impressive, assembled cast, with Blanchett in particular, the star of the show. She’s unashamedly theatrical and comically ill-disposed, injecting a real sense of class into this production. Her inclusion is particularly imperative, as she provides this picture with the cruelty and inhumanity needed to counteract what is otherwise a frivolous, and effervescent creation.
This pure and ebullient approach is somewhat overwhelming in parts however, and while appreciating Cinderella’s most defining character trait is her wholeheartedness and inherently kind (and courageous) demeanour, it can be annoying and you just wish that this happy-go-lucky protagonist would react and rebel, and take all of her anger out on a pumpkin or something. But alas, Branagh deviates away from anything of the sort, and instead ensures that this whimsical and exuberant family film knows exactly who its target audience is, and plays up to them in an endearingly earnest manner. Children should love it, and that’s essentially all that truly matters.