Magnificent! We all knew the story, yet director Kenneth Branagh still had the audience eager to see it unfold as witnessed by the applause at the end of this masterpiece. The regal sets, bizarre costumes and jaw-dropping special effects make this fairy tale almost a reality. Lily James, the beauty from Downton Abby, is perfect as Cinderella.
Her dark brows juxtaposed against her pale complexion and blonde locks give her expressions heightened impact. She is simply splendid while Cate Blanchett, as the evil Stepmother, terrifies and yet gets the biggest laughs when her delivery is spot on. Richard Madden as the prince has all the right moments, but his pitter-pat appeal is a tad short for a prince of one's fantasies. Kenneth Branagh directs with perfection and gives long moments between the prince and Cinderella. These moments allow them to fall in love in lingering romantic silence.
And how nice that the four mice were spared. I so feared the evil stepmother would do them in with her adorable but evil cat, but the cruelty in this film is kept to a minimum. Perhaps there could have been more. Cinderella does not suffer as much as she did in my memory. Her suffering seems to be replaced by her need to forgive and to be kind. Opposite from a selfless Ella are her stepsisters, Drisella and Anastasia who are played respectively by Sophie McShera and Holiday Grainger with bubbly enthusiasm.
But the highlight of the film is fairy god mother Helen Bonham Carter who steals everyone's thunder when she turns a pumpkin into a gold chariot with the mice as horses and lizards and ducks as Cinderella's entourage. Together they drive her golden pumpkin a la mode to the ball given by the king. The purpose of the ball is to find a bride for the prince whose heart is spent pining for a young lass he met in the woods while hunting. He never learned her name. But as we all know this lass was Ella, who later is dubbed Cinderella due to nights sleeping by the fire while its cinders leave smudges of charcoal on her face.
Branagh's direction begins slow and small and builds to a crescendo and climax guaranteed not to let your fantasies down. The stellar cast is so well coiffed in period fairy garb that some are barely recognizable. Stellan Skarsgard, as the Grand Duke, is a nasty piece of work and good at this, while Derek Jacobi, who plays the king, spreads wisdom and concern with each utterance.
After the palace ball the prince combs the countryside looking for the beauteous spirit who stole his heart, but who left her glass slipper. When, lo and behold, he has been among the palace's caped and masked troops looking for the mysterious Cinderella. As the king's guard searches for her, captain, Nonso Anozie, plays good while the Grand Duke plays bad cop. These two work well together and add gravitas at a moment when the ho hums could have set in.
Writer Chris Weitz keeps the dialogue active and modern, but not cutsie or filled with clichés. My only criticism is that the prince lacked a tad bit of sensuality which could have made him more charming. But leaving the theatre the applause warmed my heart and I left with memories of the goodness and kindness of a Cinderella who never grows old.