This update won’t be heralded for subverting old-fashioned notions of feminism or breaking the narrative mould, but it’s a charming enough fairytale brought richly to the screen – and its target market (most likely small girls aged 5-10) will absolutely love it.
Playing Cinders is the lovely Lily James, probably better known to the accompanying adult viewer as Lady Rose from Downton Abbey. When her widowed father remarries, Ella, as she is initially known, gains an exotically stunning witch of a stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and two perfectly frightful stepsisters – the yellow one played by pasty Daisy from below stairs in Downton, getting her own back in a never-before-heard posh accent and some exquisite costumes.
The plot then plays out exactly as you expect, with Ella meeting a nice young chap she fails to identify as the prince (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden – who, despite straight white teeth and sparkly blue eyes, is no Theo James). The Prince falls in love, invites all the maidens in the land to a ball, Ella has some troubles with her outfit – cue Helena Bonham-Carter as the delightful fairy godmother. You know the drill.
In the director’s chair sits Kenneth Branagh – paragon of British theatre and serious film productions of Hamlet, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and, um, Thor. Proving himself to be a dab-hand at any genre (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was a more than passable stab at the action movie), why not give him a fairytale to refurbish? Plus he gets to cast some of his old pals, calling in a favour from Sir Derek Jacobi.
But Blanchett is the scene-stealer, with her gambling problem and her dirty laugh hidden beneath layers of gorgeous silk skirts and perennially arched eyebrows. She’s so vile that at one point, Miss 9 leaned over and whispered “I’d tell her to go live somewhere else!” proving it may be an old story, but our newest generation of princesses doesn’t expect a Prince Charming to sort out their problems for them.