Almost exactly 4 years ago, the world watched with eyes peeled at the wedding of Prince William and relative "commoner" Kate Middleton. I was one of those persons, intrigued by the real-life fairy tale nature of the proceedings. It was a firm reminder that the Cinderella story is one that will never go out of style, destined to be retold for generations to come. It's with that frame of mind that I came to appreciate the latest film adaptation of "Cinderella", given an unabashedly old-fashioned interpretation by director Kenneth Branagh.
The plot for "Cinderella" needs no explaining, but here's a rundown just in case. Cinderella is a happy young girl who lives with her parents in a beautiful home tucked away in a kingdom. Everything is perfect for a time, until tragedy strikes. Her mother falls ill and soon passes, leaving Cinderella and her father alone in their grief. Eventually, her father remarries to a snobbish widow named Lady Tremaine (played by Cate Blanchett), who brings her pair of bratty daughters with her. Now a teenager some years later, Cinderella has finally gotten over her sadness, when tragedy strikes yet again. Her father goes away on a trip and doesn't return. So Cinderella is left with her stepmother and stepsisters who grow more and more cruel by the day. Before long, Cinderella becomes their servant and is banished to the attic. Her days are filled with misery and loneliness, but Cinderella maintains the positive attitude that her mother instilled in her as a child. Her cheerful disposition will serve her well, as a fateful encounter with a prince will set her on an a magical journey that may restore peace and happiness in her life once more.
The virtue of kindness and generosity is what drives the narrative of "Cinderella", especially when it comes to Lily James in the lead role. The young actress is simply radiant here, reminiscent of the sort of warmth and genuine goodness displayed by Olivia de Havilland in "Gone With the Wind". It's truly a breakout performance and I'd be surprised if her star doesn't continue to rise from here.
Likewise, Richard Madden is compelling as the Prince, making his character just as intriguing as our heroine. Disney Princes often run the risk of being bland, but this combination of sympathetic characterization and charismatic performance ensures that he is every bit Cinderella's equal. Madden's success in the role is consistent with the appeal of the rest of the cast, where the best performances seem to come exclusively from the "good guys". As the main antagonist, the scowling meanness of Cate Blanchett's Lady Tremaine seems glaringly out of place in the world Branagh has created here. Though she gets a few lines to justify her attitude, the character struggles to feel like a real human being.
Indeed, most of the attention is paid to the grandeur of the kingdom itself. Branagh's direction is frequently awe-inspiring in that regard, employing gorgeous establishing shots to express an epic scale that we normally don't get from this story. On top of that, the film features some absolutely stunning costumes by Sandy Powell. The clothing is such an important aspect to the Cinderella story (the glass slipper, the show-stopping ball gown) and Powell does not disappoint. In fact, Blanchett owes much of her own character development to the luxe stylings.
In the end, the film gives you everything you want from a "Cinderella" adaptation. It has a true sense of adventure and romance, along with dashes of the Disney humour that became popular during the studio's Renaissance. Sure, you could complain that the screenplay plays it too close to that old-school formula, but this gratifying production proves that it still works in 2015. It's overly familiar, but Branagh makes a heartwarming, grand spectacle out of it.