Call it old-fashioned, but Kenneth Branagh's version of the fairy-tale is irresistible.


The magic hour: Helena Bonham Carter and Lily James


Once upon a time there was a classic cartoon called Cinderella. It, and its animated siblings One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Alice in Wonderland, The Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast, is part of an initiative by Disney to transform its treasury of cartoons into live-action hits. Last year (2014) saw the enormous commercial and critical success of Maleficent (worldwide gross: $517 million), which turned the original story of The Sleeping Beauty on its head, giving the limelight (and sympathy) to the wicked fairy godmother, as personified by Angelina Jolie. It was a canny and courageous move, dispelling the black-and-white parameters of good and evil and fleshing out the back-story of a maligned villainess.


Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is a more straightforward affair, drawing on all the magic of CGI to render Charles Perrault's original story in all its fantastical glory. He – along with the scriptwriter Chris Weitz (Antz, About a Boy) – has tweaked some of the story’s more ludicrous notions to his comic advantage (the Prince, on handling Cinders’ shoe: “It’s made of glass!” Cinders: “And why not?”). Other than the occasional wink to his adult audience (much comic momentum is gained by the Fairy Godmother, played by Branagh’s ex, Helena Bonham Carter), Branagh sticks to the rules.


Like many classic tales, Cinderella can survive re-interpretation because it’s basically an irresistible story. And so even after Rossini's opera, Prokofiev's ballet, the Disney cartoon and Bryan Forbes' The Slipper and the Rose, the thing can still elicit a smile and a tear. Lily James (Lady Rose MacClare in Downton Abbey) is suitably guileless and adorable in the title role, Cate Blanchett almost believable as the vindictive and tragic stepmother and Richard Madden dashing and gutsy as the Prince (making up for his soporific turn in Patrice Leconte's A Promise). The only surprise is that besides Lily James’ rendition of ‘A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes’ on the soundtrack, nobody bursts into song. It’s perhaps a shame that Stephen Sondheim’s version of the story, Into the Woods – in which Anna Kendrick sang as Cinderella – is such a recent memory.




Cast: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter, Alex Macqueen, Nonso Anozie, Hayley Atwell, Ben Chaplin, Rob Brydon.


Dir Kenneth Branagh, Pro Simon Kinberg, Allison Shearmur and David Barron, Screenplay Chris Weitz, Ph Haris Zambarloukos, Pro Des Dante Ferretti, Ed Martin Walsh, Music Patrick Doyle, Costumes Sandy Powell.


Walt Disney Pictures/Kinberg Genre/Allison Shearmur Productions/Beagle Pug Films-Walt Disney.

113 mins. USA/UK. 2015. Rel: 27 March 2015. Cert. U.