You get a lot more background than is strictly necessary in Kenneth Branagh’s re-telling of this much-loved fairytale, and the result is an ever-so-slight apologia for the wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett).
Widowed and left with, as she describes them, ‘two idiot daughters’ to raise, she re-marries only to find herself in the shadow of Cinderella’s deceased real mother, thus accentuating her bitterness and meanness.
Otherwise, Branagh doesn’t deviate from the well-trodden path, knowing that, at its core, the tale’s theme of revenge is one that should not be tampered with if his audience is to be rewarded with the satisfaction it craves.
You can read too much into a simple narrative, but it seems that the Cinderella story is particularly pertinent to an age in which everybody feels hard done by – we all want ‘those bastards’ (whoever they are) to get their comeuppance.
The centrepiece here is the ball, at which our heroine is reacquainted with the dashing prince, who is unaware of her identity but overwhelmed by her ravishing beauty and purity of heart.
Earlier, the fairy-godmother, played by an ageless Helena Bonham Carter, had performed the tricks of turning the pumpkin into a golden carriage and the mice into white horses before decking out Cinders in her fabulous gown and those portentous glass slippers.
It’s a fantastic scene, bettered only by the frantic dash from the palace when the smitten ingénue realises she must return home before the stroke of midnight.
As the ideal of every girl’s daggy olde-worlde dream, Lily James (from Downton Abbey) is captivating and gorgeous.
Richard Madden as the prince is pretty gorgeous, too, as is the art direction, the cinematography and the costume design by the legendary Sandy Powell.
A gal needing a guy to find fulfilment might be horribly outdated, but Cinderella’s lesson – to ‘be courageous and kind’ – is one that should never be out of fashion, especially as we watch our own society slide into callowness and cruelty.
‘When you wish upon a star… ’
~ John Campbell