It's a tale everyone knows by heart. It's one we've grown up with, one we have heard or watched over and over again. Cinderella is the ultimate underdog story, the epitome of "from rags to riches".
Because the fairytale has been told in so many fashions, from Ever After to the modernized A Cinderella Story, one might get tired of the poor girl finding her handsome prince to save her from a horrid stepmother and two unbelievably dim stepsisters. But director Kenneth Branagh breathed fresh life into the classic. In true Branagh fashion, the overall look and feel of Cinderella was grandiose, dramatic, and downright beautiful, yet tangible.
Lily James (Downton Abbey) commanded the screen. She was Cinderella to a T. She was soft and kind hearted, but with a quiet strength, she showed Cinderella's fierceness and perseverance. James' character was also very bright and well spoken. Richard Madden, known well for his role as "Robb Stark" on Game of Thrones, was a humble, bright, and charming prince.
The real "wow" performance came from none other than Cate Blanchett as the deplorable, sinister Lady Tremaine, Cinderella's stepmother. The moment she came on the screen, Blanchett was graceful, beautiful, but not without hints of the cruelty lying within her character. Interestingly enough, the tides were turned for James in the casting of Sophie McShera as the imbecilic Drizella. McShera is best known for her portrayal of kitchen maid "Daisy" on Downton Abbey while James plays a lady of leisure, cousin Rose. Now James is serving McShera, as well as the stunning Holliday Grainger as the ever vain Anastasia. Blanchett, McShera, and Grainger made for the perfect cruel, yet entertaining triad to balance out the kind, bright Cinderella. And to round out the main cast so perfectly was Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. She was brilliant! Hilarious, stunning, and enticing.
The sets were immaculate, especially the palace. The house where Cinderella lived with Lady Tremaine and her stepsisters resembled that of Disney's animated version. The inside was adorned with old furnishings and artwork. The palace was more luxurious than in the animated version, extending acres upon acres in the seaside kingdom.
The costumes were beyond gorgeous. From the simpler dresses to the ball gowns, to the guards' uniforms to the lizard coachmen's uniforms were on point. Branagh is known to be very particular and have a strict adherence to continuity, but not one costume piece seemed out of place. The designs were purposefully intricate and bright for the ball and only Cinderella ever wore pastels. The film successfully separated Cinderella from her family and the richer nobles just by costuming alone.
We can't discuss Cinderella without discussing her transformation for the ball. The effects were magnificent and glittering (literally). The pumpkin was turned into a beautiful ornate carriage, the mice into horses, and so on. But- the entire scene of transforming her tattered pink dress to the billowing, beautiful blue ball gown took everyone in the audience's breath away. James stunned in the gown. Despite the immense size of the skirt and the corset top, James wore the dress wonderfully.
I refuse to give any spoilers on how anything happened in the movie. Despite us all knowing the ending before we even buy the movie ticket, Branagh made Cinderella fresh and wonderful for us all. This is a new journey for the tale and everyone who loves the original, much like I do, should go see this. The performances, the cinematography, the sets, the costuming- everything makes this a wonderful enjoyment. And as always, Cinderella leaves us with one of the most important lessons we could stand to learn in this world: "Have courage and be kind." Although, a fancy pair of shoes might help.