It feels faintly confessional to declare I bloody love Kenneth Branagh. I do. I think he’s great. I love his acting. I love his direction. I love that he brought us Thor (and, via the marvellous Wallander, Tom Hiddleston). I love that he was married to Emma Thompson. And even though I really, really wanted Toby Stephens to be cast as Gilderoy Lockhart, I love that he’s a part of the Harry Potter film universe. So I didn’t need a whole lot of convincing to watch his take on Cinderella.
And to top it all, I got to be among the very first people in the UK to get to see Frozen Fever, which has nothing to do with Kenneth Branagh, but is basically me bragging. Sorry. Ish. More on this later (or you can just scroll to the bottom).
Branagh’s Cinderella is a live action retelling of the fairytale; it doesn’t have a particular alternative spin, a la Maleficent, and – wisely, in my opinion – it doesn’t really seek to do much more than reinvigorate a well-loved tale. Disney’s animated classic, still looking gorgeous at 65, is one of the gentlest of the whole stable, with relatively little peril and a liberal sprinkling of glitter and stardust – in fact, it’s said Walt’s favourite bit of animation was the dress transformation. Branagh restrainedly doesn’t attempt to layer too much onto that and goes instead for a very traditional family movie, marrying a sweet, intimate script peppered with British quirk to the visual sumptuousness of a Hollywood blockbuster.
In fact, so lavish is the imagery – particularly the mindblowingly gorgeous costume design – that only an excellent cast could avoid being swallowed up by it. While Lily James is a bit too breathless for my preference – kindness doesn’t have to mean a lack of gumption – Richard Madden is appropriately charming and Cate Blanchett, in the accurate words of my husband “becomes more beautiful and more intimidatingly talented with every role”. Her Lady Tremaine is wonderfully nuanced and even a little sympathetic, swinging smoothly from uncontrolled bursts of rage to icily arresting viciousness. In this she’s ably assisted by the secondary villain, a megalomaniac aristocrat brought to scheming life by Stellan Skarsgard (yep, love him too) and Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera in gloriously grotesque form as Anastasia and Drizella – in fact, I could have done with even more of the latter pairing.
The show is, however, stolen by the special guest star; Helena Bonham Carter opts for feather-light British eccentricity with a touch of sly humour as the Fairy Godmother; her soft voice shepherds us through the heavily narrated action and her eventual appearance involves plenty of daft physical comedy, making gleeful use of elements like her bizarre choice of vehicular vegetable. She lifts the pace of what is a surprisingly long movie and keeps it from sagging at the centre, providing the off-beat heart of the film. Injecting a little more drama into the magic also sets up a lively and welcome stroke-of-midnight set piece, which, with its ‘princess’ trapped in a shrinking pumpkin, has more than a whiff of Alice about it.
From the largely home-grown cast to the indulgent little asides (a Rob Brydon cameo that wasn’t for me, but that seemed to land well with the rest of the audience), this felt like a very British effort, and it’s that layer of deliberate quirk that brings it to life and makes it a highly watchable, sweet and very, very pretty family film.
The four-year-old’s verdict: It was good. I think it’s better than the cartoon. Cinderella was nice. It was a bit long though and I got tired. There were some funny bits [she laughed during the painter scene, and at the animal transformations].
Family note: Aside from two – very gentle – depictions of death and, of course, Lady Tremaine’s acerbic treatment of Cinders, there’s little to worry about here for even the most sensitive child. Definitely a full family friendly film (I like alliteration).
Cinderella is on general release in the UK from March 27th.
And now, Frozen Fever. Well, it certainly has its moments! Without wishing to give too much away, the action unfolds on Anna’s birthday where Elsa’s attempts to give her a celebration to remember go a little awry (think Tangled Every After with more snow). There’s a new song to enjoy, and plenty of Olaf gags, plus cameos from practically every character you’d want to see. Ramona watched avidly and chuckled out loud a few times, as did I. And it was nice to hear Jonathan Groff sing a little about something other than reindeer…
Disclosure: The kind folks at Disney UK provided screening tickets including the funtimes shown above; thoughts about the film, however, are entirely mine.