Right from the outset one has to point put that there is really nothing to disappoint where Disney’s real-life film Cinderella is concerned. This is probably because the film, on the whole, plays it safe, remaining true to both the tale as most people are aware of it, and Disney’s own classic animated version from 1950. In their new one – directed by Kenneth Branagh and staring Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Sophie McShera and Holiday Grainger – the studio injects life into what has gone before, adding a few tweaks here and there, but basically staying fundamentally the same.
This age-old tale follows poor orphan Cinderella (James) who, following the death of her beloved parents, is reduced to becoming a servant in her own home by her coldhearted stepmother (Blanchett). It’s only after intervention by her fairy godmother (Bonham Carter) and rescue by a dashing prince (Madden) that our heroine is saved from a life of drudgery and servitude to one where she and her truelove can live happily ever-after.
It was always going to be a pretty safe bet that Disney would not offer anything up in their new film which you would be unhappy letting your granny see. We are of course talking about the studio which has built a reputation, over nearly one hundred years, on providing often sugar coated, frequently sanitised, versions of well-loved fairy stories. Here is a place where everyone lives in beautiful houses or sumptuous castles, princes really are handsome and frequently find their true love not from regal backgrounds but from lowly and humble origins, and where everyone – who deserves to – lives a long and happy life, whilst the wicked characters are conveniently airbrushed out of the picture and never heard of again.
Now, some may say, the studio took a different approach with their retailing last year of the story of Sleeping Beauty, as they told it from the seldom seen point-of-view of Maleficent, the wicked fairy. There of course they gave the old story a fresh twist by making the misunderstood ‘witch’ the good character, whilst having her enemy the king (Beauty’s father) the real villain of the piece. There the reversal of roles worked well, giving what could have been a tired and hackneyed story a new and refreshing angle.
They couldn’t however do that with Cinderella. The whole story here evolves around the put upon scullery maid and her bitter and sour souled stepmother, and there is really nowhere else to go with it. With this in mind, its how the story is imagined on the screen which will determine whether it becomes a classic or is relegated to the dusty vaults of family films thats DVDs are brought out to keep the kids happy on a wet afternoon, but otherwise seldom see the light of day.
With this in mind Cinderella does not disappoint, with every penny of the estimated $95 million budget visible on the screen. From the scenery and locations – which include England’s stately Blenheim Palace and Cliveden House – to the fantastical wardrobes by Oscar winning costume designer Sandy Powell, no expense has been spared to bring the magical world to life on the screen. Of course this could not have been done without a cast of superior acting talent. Here however it’s not really James as Cinderella or Madden as her dashing prince who stand out, good though they are. Instead its those who usually play second fiddle who stick in the mind. With a show stealing turn by Blanchett as Cinderella’s haughty and cold stepmother, alongside McShera and Grainger as her spoilt and brattish daughters Drisella and Anastasia, and a relatively brief appearance by Bonham Carter who blows the competition away as only she can with her interpretation of Cinderella’s fairy godmother, it’s the film’s supporting ensemble who turn out to be its most memorable stars.
Basically though, when it boils down to it, what you get with the new Cinderella is what you’d expect – a massive, glitzy and beautifully polished, family film, which neither disappoints, whilst at the same time not really offering anything new to the age old story. It gives us a perfect vision of an imaginary world where good wins out in the end, bad gets its just deserts and everyone (who’s good) lives happily ever-after. Which as we all know only really happens in fairytales.