Reel Shorts | Cinderella


One of cinema’s most enduring characters, Cinderella, gets a fresh makeover in the winning adaptation of the Disney classic.

Over the decades, hundreds of films have been made that are either direct adaptations from Cinderella or have plots loosely based on the story. That fact didn’t stop Disney from re-introducing the character to a new generation.

In this latest adaptation directed by Oscar-nominated director, Kenneth Branagh, young Ella (Eloise Webb) is enjoying an idyllic existence, enveloped in love, living with her loving parents, (Agent Carter’s Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin). But her world begins crashing down when she finds out her mother is gravelly-ill and not expected to survive. Implored by her mother to “remain kind and courageous,” Ella (Lily James) grows into a precocious, young beautiful woman and companion for her loving father.

Once again, life throws Ella a curve-ball when her father announces that he plans to marry the mysterious Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and bring her and her two vacuous daughters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera) to live with them. Immediately, tension arises with her step-mother and snobbishly-unaware daughters who treat their beautiful home as if it was a country outpost. To make her ungrateful visitors feel more at home, Ella even gives up her bedroom and takes up residence in the drafty, attic with only her mice companions to keep her company.

If Ella thought life was hell before, it becomes unbearable when her father dies while away on business. With no one to check her behavior, Lady Tremaine turns her step-daughter into her servant, making her life truly miserable. Waiting on her step-mother’s and step-sisters’ every single whim, Ella’s message from her mother serves as a mantra to help her get through her drab existence. Just when it seemed that she would never catch a break, “Cinderella” (newly christened for her tattered and dirty appearance) meets a handsome young man in the woods, Kit also known as Prince Charming (Richard Madden). The two hit if off immediately, even if she is clueless of his identity.

The smitten Prince can’t stop thinking about his mystery lady but is discouraged from being with her because she doesn’t possess royal blood. Even his dying father, the King, wants him to “secure his kingdom” by marrying a royal princess. In an effort to try to find his “true love,” he talks the King into throwing a ball for the entire town at the palace.

Responsible for films such as American Pie, About a Boy, The Golden Compass and Twilight: New Moon, writer Chris Weitz brings a lovely atmosphere to the story’s proceeding. Chock full of lavish costumes and set designs, Cinderella is a gorgeous spectacle that also has plenty of heart. A wonderful example is Ella’s journey to get to the ball. With the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), the tattered Ella is transformed into a staggeringly beautiful princess, complete with the finest coach in the kingdom and a pair of stunning glass slippers.

Of course, there is treachery, courtesy of The Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård) and the scheming Lady Tremaine, who form an alliance to keep the Prince away from Ella in exchange for a higher social standing and husbands for her daughters. Inevitably, in the end, love conquers all but even with its familiarity, Weitz’s script still manages to illuminate on the screen. Patrick Doyle’s score adds a lush element to the proceedings that perfectly complements the elaborate costumes and set designs.

James’ work on Downton Abbey, serves her well as she seamlessly slides into character with the ease of a seasoned professional. Despite performing a character that is so well known, she supplies a sense of newness with her vivacious performance and anchors Branagh’s production. Her chemistry with Madden is also undeniable and the two make a beautiful on-screen pairing.

Despite so many films about Cinderella being produced, Branagh and Weitz surprisingly managed to find the freshness in this “winter’s tale.” Although it is unexpected and courageous, we will be nothing but kind to this latest adaption, which proves that well-written material can still be well-told for a new generation.

Grade: B