Cinderella is one of the most widely known stories in the Western world and has produced many films. So any new film would need to be something extra in order to make itself seem worthwhile. Kenneth Branagh’s new take on the work does just enough to do just that. Branagh’s film is a charming film that has some interesting ideas (even if it doesn’t completely go through with most of them), which makes Cinderella one of the best family films in recent memory.
There’s very little spin on the Cinderella tale that western audiences have come to know in this film. However, you aren’t going to watch this film expecting to be surprised. The foundations of the tale are done extremely well in Kenneth Branagh’s hands. The messages of this film (such as “have courage and be kind”) are very basic but are inserted into the film in a way that seems fresh and real. The major set pieces (such as the royal ball) are done really well and Branagh realizes he can still get a lot out of them by just sticking to the basics that made it work in the first place. The main roles are also extremely well cast. Lily James gives a breakthrough performance as Cinderella. It was hard not to notice that she really does look like Hayley Atwell with a blond wig (who plays Cinderella’s mother in a small role) while also showing that she has the necessary charm and acting talent to be a major force in the acting world for years to come. Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett just eats the material up as Cinderella’s stepmother while never falling into campy acting.
The film does hint at going into some more complex places than a Cinderella adaptation has ever gone before. For instance, there are hints of the government in place in this world having to deal with real life issues such as how to maintain power. These little touches add a sense of credibility to the film while also being slightly disappointing in that they don’t really go anywhere. It would have been interesting to see Branagh go completely through with the complex political structure hinted at here. I don’t know if it would have made a better film (it could have resulted in a big mess), but it would have added some more uniqueness to the film.
Instead this film will just have to be seen as a familiar but strong adaptation of a classic story. Cinderella is one of the few good films that adults and children can enjoy together.