There hasn’t been much I’ve wanted to see at the cinema since Big Hero 6. All the really good stuff this year isn’t coming out until later. But tonight, I decided to go and see Cinderella. It’s not usually my style, at least not at the cinema; but I’d heard good things about it, and if nothing else, I’d be able to see the much publicised short Frozen Fever.
So first off, what about Frozen Fever? To be honest, there’s not a huge amount to say. If you’ve watched Tangled Ever After (which is available on Youtube) and enjoyed it, you should like this, as it’s very much in the same vein. It’s just a short bit of fun and a chance to see these characters we love once again (even a couple you might not expect). It has some good character moments, quite a bit of creativity – like Kristoff using Olaf’s head like a bowling ball – and while the song that takes up the majority of the short is no ‘Let It Go’, it does the job.
Then we got to the main feature – which I absolutely loved, far more than I was expecting.
I won’t bother going over the story; you all know it, and this film is generally faithful to it, save for a few minor deviations from the norm in the third act. But if it’s a story that everyone knows, why should you go to see this film? Well, its approach, rather than taking the story in new directions, is to add layers to it. Compared to the Disney animated film especially, there’s a lot more dimension to the story and to the characters. The film takes time to carefully examine elements that get glossed over in other versions, such as Cinderella’s actual transition from a happy life to her stepfamily’s servant. This approach definitely succeeds in giving Cinderella extra appeal to a modern audience. On top of that, in aesthetic terms, it’s an absolutely beautiful film. There’s glorious colour everywhere, and if I’d been doing that District Tag exercise next week, I would probably have counted this film as my example for ‘great costumes’.
You get a lot of debate these days about the message of Cinderella. Some people don’t like how the heroine doesn’t really do anything and gets her dream life handed to her on a plate. Others like the message of having a positive attitude to life and keeping a good heart even when there’s negativity all around you. This film, for its part, really tries hard to incorporate the latter. Aside from a few moments where things get too harsh for her, we see Ella maintaining a positive outlook throughout; for example, when her stepmother first makes her sleep in the attic, she focusses on the positive aspects like the solitude. Even when she doesn’t think her dreams are going to come true, she focusses on the fact that she has known happiness in her life and those memories will always be with her; that’s the kind of thinking that many people could use in real life. Thus, the film actually manages to be potentially inspiring – though it doesn’t go too far and make Ella a sickly-sweet cardboard cutout; she does have moments of weakness.
Our romantic leads, Lily James as Ella and Richard Madden as Prince Kit, are currently best known from major TV shows: James as Lady Rose from Downton Abbey, Madden as Robb Stark from Game of Thrones. Lily James has more opportunity to show off her acting skill here than she does in Downton Abbey, and she absolutely delivers; her charming performance probably plays a big part in making Ella so endearing, besides the script. Richard Madden is a great Prince, combining lots of charisma (he may not be called Charming here, but he deserves to be) with some inner uncertainty. Cate Blanchett absolutely nails it as the stepmother, sometimes seeming more like Cruella de Vil; she has quite a few really venomous moments, and some excellent expressions, but often still manages to have some ladylike charm even while she’s being horrible to Ella. Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother, and Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera as the stepsisters, are great to watch too.
Overall, this is about as close to perfect as a Cinderella adaptation can be. It develops the story, giving it extra appeal for this day and age – but the old Disney magic is unquestionably there. With all the dark and gritty films around right now, perhaps a story of positivity with a pure, likeable heroine is just what we need. I smiled a lot while I was watching it, and if you go and see it, I hope you do too. Rating: 4.5/5.