While Alexandra Roach shines and Iain Softley shows some deft structural touches, Trap for Cinderella is a Brit thriller that belongs more on BBC1’s Sunday night schedules than the big screen. Based on Sebastien Japrisot’s 1962 novel (already adapted under its original French title, Piege Par Cendrillon three years later), Softley’s film intrigues rather than ever really gripping the viewer.
We meet the badly burnt Micky (Tuppence Middleton), the now-amnesiac victim of an opening credits explosion, and follow her attempts to piece together her past. Did she love the handsome young lawyer (Aneurin Barnard) who had grieved for her? Can she really inherit millions from her estranged, late family? And who really was Do (Roach), the childhood friend who died in the fire?
Softley does his utmost to obscure the production’s low budget with claustrophobic camerawork, jarring sound design and niftily deployed flashbacks and jump-cuts to keep the viewer guessing. Even when the often shrill melodrama of the plot’s obsession and love triangle arcs grows irritating, Softley’s skill and the cast’s talent keep you just about engrossed. Whether you’ll be able to prevent rolling your eyes at from-the-novel lines like ‘I hear we were lovers…’ is another matter.
We may never fully appreciate what’s so irresistible about the beautiful-but-vapid pre-accident Micky, and there’s a great scene where most audience members will agree with Barnard’s character when he feels exhausted by just how insufferable Micky and Do are as a pair.
Yet Middleton and Roach both offer enough nuance to keep your concentration. There’s sadness within the attention-seeking, causal cruelty of Micky, while Roach (so brilliantly duplicitous in Channel 4’s Utopia), craftily conveys that sweet, innocent Do might not be as angelic as she seems.
It’s their talent that keeps the film engaging, a bonus when a ‘secret’ is blatant around 45 minutes in, and the third act almost jettisons all the prior tension with padded-out sequences of swimming and cycling in the south of France.
Aiming for Hitchcockian territory, Trap for Cinderella’s a finely crafted, well-acted TV movie that’s somehow found its way into cinemas. It’s interesting to see the production notes’ revelation that a $30m version, with big-name actors had been planned – you can easily envisage a Mila Kunis Micky opposite a Do played by Ellen Page. And while it’s great to see young talent like Middleton and Roach getting a big screen chance, they – and the skilful Softley – deserve a better, more plausible project.
Unlike, say, Black Swan, a psychological thriller with similar themes but genuinely sinister tension, Trap for Cinderella engages but never shocks.