In an era where everything is dissected for its mettle and virtue and scrutinized to the last degree for minute errors, it comes as no surprise that every review of Kenneth Branagh’s take on ‘Cinderella’, even though favourable, sums up by saying that the movie was not animated enough, or deplored that it advocated the now-unfashionable notion of gentlemen marrying only blondes with petite figures and slim waists.
What we should actually do, for once, is simply devour a cinematic offering such as Cinderella with no questions asked, as a fairy tale by its nature throws logic to the winds and is necessarily suffused with larger-than-life backdrops, characters and imagination.
Kenneth Branagh doesn’t resort to any twists or turns, forced morals or sub-plots. This story is told in the simplest and most straightforward manner and before looking behind the bigger picture it paints on the psyche of the notions of beauty and lack of it and the shallowness of society, why don’t we appreciate a story for what it is? – a detour from the normal mundane lives and a grand visit to an imaginary landscape of fairies, pumpkins turning in to carriages and a handsome Prince Charming and his equally captivating simpleton lover.
The visuals in the movie are breathtaking in their splendour and richness of colour. Too often we see our imaginary landscape of favourite fantasy characters being spoilt by the boxing and defining of them by Hollywood, with the possible exception of the accurate portrayal of Frodo Baggins and friends in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
But ‘Cinderella’ does absolute justice to a story which we read as wide eyed children wondering at the intricacies of this big grown-up world. For most of us, Cinderella served as the sign of the absolute triumph of good over wickedness, beauty over the lack of it, and the marvellous, old-fashioned ideal of a Prince Charming and his beloved.
The film is saccharine-sweet when it starts with the happy times of Ella and her parents and soon shifts to the main narrative before you get a numbing sugar rush. Then begins the impending drama, with the arrival of Cate Blanchett’s Lady Tremaine. In all the glory of her beautiful clothes, perfect coiffure, and her newfound joy in a marriage that salvages her position, yet barely hiding her discontent and displeasure at having to share the house with Ella, Blanchett elevates Lady Tremaine from the stereotypical fairytale stepmother by imbuing it with human elements. She does this with carefully controlled, myriad expressions of grief, jealousy, rage and an uncanny concern for the wellbeing of herself and her silly daughters.
“She too had known grief,” the narrator tells us, “but she wore it wonderfully well”. The emphasis on the last two words is brought startlingly alive in the coming scenes.
We believe in Cinderella, played wonderfully simply by Lily James of Downton Abbey fame, despite almost dripping with love and kindness, and as the epilogue says, her vision of a world as it could be rather than as it is. Kindness and courage are the two virtues she advocates, and soon we become transformed along with her, and believe that only good happens to those who believe in and try to practice these virtues.
The events leading to Ella being transformed into Cinder-Ella are told with Branagh’s usual dexterity, while they offer nothing new as we wait eagerly for the defining moment of the fateful first meeting between Ella and the prince.
As Prince Charming, Richard Madden of Game of Thrones fits the bill perfectly with his sparkling blue eyes, whiter-than-white teeth and perfectly groomed looks. He wears his clothes in the handsomest way of any recent Hollywood hero.
Things unfold soon just as they should, with each scene a technical and visual marvel of sceneries, a castle, a spectacular ball and lots of clothes and jewellery. What more could the child in us want, beyond beauty, romance and colour? Towards the end, when the simple Ella is finally rescued from her miserable status, my heart leapt with a joy hard to express. At that moment, I believed the world was as simple and as beautiful as Ella found it to be, and there was no reason to dig deeper into anything, but merely bask in the glory.
Of the many delightful scenes, Ella’s first dance with the prince stands out. It starts slowly, gradually gaining momentum and taking our hearts for a swirl along with it. Remarkable, and perhaps best of all, is the scene when the pumpkin carriage, lizard footmen and the goose driver all turn to their old form at the last stroke of midnight. The scene calls for a standing ovation for brilliance of imagination.
As I left the theater, my heart singing along to the credit song, I felt that, after all, the world is a beautiful place indeed, with things and people of beauty in it. I felt like Cinderella.