Helena Bonham Carter
The first in a twenty-first-century-line of live-action reimaginings of classic Disney animations, 2015’s Cinderella is the perfect homage to the original but also highly capable of standing on its own two glass-slippered feet.
Everybody knows the classic story: Girl’s widowed father marries a horrible woman with two daughters. Girl’s father dies, Girl’s stepmother and stepsisters treat her appallingly. Prince arranges a ball, Girl is banned from attending said ball, Fairy Godmother appears to send her to the ball where Prince falls in love with Girl. Girl leaves at midnight, Prince uses glass slipper left behind to find Girl, he finds her, they marry and live happily ever after, the end.
I was prepared to dislike this movie. I’ve never been a huge fan of the 1950 animated Cinderella (I like it well enough, but not as much as, say, Beauty and the Beast) and so I didn’t think this live-action reimagining would move me at all. But then I saw it at the cinema. Three times.
It’s not that I think it’s the most well-made of movies (there’s not even any original songs in it, only a small refrain of Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale from the original movie and the odd tendency to burst into a rendition of Lavender’s Blue [a ditty that will be stuck in your head for days]). There’s just something rather magical about it. Hardly surprising when it’s Disney, but with Kenneth Branagh as director, Lily James as the titular character (whom I was prepared to dislike for her performance… I have no idea why…) and Richard Madden as Kit (or Prince Charming, as he’s known from the animation – another performance I was prepared to dislike) I thought it was going to be a recipe for a dark and dreary disaster, which ultimately could not have been further from the truth. I was delighted to be proven so utterly wrong.
From the off I was enchanted by James’s portrayal of Cinderella, or Ella, as is her given name. She does teeter on the line of good acting/bad acting, as can be expected when taking on a character that, let’s be honest, comes laden with cheesiness (Cinderella is known to be a character that is encouraged to be nice and kind to everyone, even those who are utter arseholes to her, and who has birds and squirrels and mice following her around and obeying her every whim). But James manages to perfectly play her on the non-mouldy side of cheese, making her quite the endearing character, who does eventually come to the end of her tether but refuses to lower herself to revenge tactics, as perhaps her step-family would do. Even her minimal chit chat with the mice is quite sweet.
Madden is also just fine as the Prince, who goes by the name of Kit these days. He perhaps would not have been my first choice of Prince Charming, but he does a fair job of it. His performance matches that of James’s, cheese for cheese, and you can’t really ask much more than that.
The role of the evil step-mother, Lady Tremain, is fabulously done by Blanchett. If it were any other actress I may have thought the performance to have been a bit over-the-top, however knowing Blanchett to be the fabulous actress that she is (and Branagh to be the director he is), I can only assume the role is supposed to be that way, and she absolutely makes it work. From her delivery to her expressions and her physicality to her scene-stealing presence, Blanchett gives Lady Tremain more depth than is perhaps seen in most other representations of the character. She’s a lady who has suffered loss and perhaps more in her life and has found herself married into a new family that leaves her feeling shut out, and so now and again you may be prompted to feel a slight sympathy for the woman – though that is briskly removed with her treatment of Ella and other characters. You also see a similarity between Lady Tremain and Ella – they’ve both suffered loss in their lives and have to deal with change, but each character chooses to react differently: Tremain lashes out whilst Ella remains kind and courageous, as she promised her mother she would. The jealousy that emanates from Ella’s stepmother towards the end is palpable and wonderfully conveyed by Blanchett.
The other classic role, that of the Fairy Godmother, is given to the wonderful Helena Bonham Carter, whom I think is perhaps less than wonderful in the role. Bonham Carter just seems perhaps a tad on the young side for such a role, one that is seen as more of a grandmother figure, traditionally. She also seems a bit standoffish, not quite as friendly as, say, the animated character. She does bring a good element of humour to the role however, which is entertaining, but overall I found the character to be not quite the bubbly older lady I’d have preferred. Fortunately she’s only around for about twenty minutes (other than providing narration).
Overall this makes for an entirely charming (pun intended) film. It stands apart from the classic animation (the animals don’t talk and don’t really do a whole lot to help Ella, except at the very end, and the updated humour certainly helps) but is really just as entertaining and lovable, and quite so.