There are certain stories that are simply timeless, tales that, no matter how many times they are told, lose none of their potency as they pass down from generation to generation. Obvious examples include the works of William Shakespeare, which have been adapted hundreds of times for stage and screen over a span of about 400 years, but we can also go back much further than that, for there have been various versions of fairy tales told in multiple cultures for thousands of years, including the classic story of “Cinderella.” Of course, this has already been adapted for film a few times already, including a very well-received live-action film (“Ever After”), a less-than-stellar TV musical, and the outstanding animated Disney film. However, it’s been nearly two decades since a classic version of this tale has been brought to the screen, so once more, it’s time to unleash the magic of this oft-told story for a new generation.
This version of the fairy tale goes back to basics, starting by introducing young Ella (Lily James) and her parents (Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell). They are just about as happy as any family could be, that is, until Ella’s mother unexpectedly falls ill and dies. Ella and her father do their best to move on with their lives, but her father eventually decides to marry again, this time to a widow (Cate Blanchett), who has two daughters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger). Ella’s stepmother has become rather bitter and cruel after the death of her previous husband, with her daughters not being any better, but Ella does her best to get along with them, following her late mother’s advice to “have courage and be kind.” Unfortunately tragedy strikes the household once again as Ella’s father dies while on a business trip, leaving her at the mercy of her new wicked family, who, after a while, treat her as no more than a servant in her own household.
One day, while out on her horse, Ella runs into a stranger on a hunt. He introduces himself as Kit (Richard Madden), but we, of course, know right away that he is the prince of the realm. They soon part, but the prince becomes rather enamored with her, convincing his father the king (Sir Derek Jacobi) to extend the invitation to the royal ball to all maidens in the kingdom, whether they are noble born or common. The news causes a great amount of excitement in Ella’s household, particularly for her stepmother, who wants the prince to marry one of her daughters. Sadly, in her never-ending cruelty, she forbids Ella to attend the ball, even going so far as to ruin the dress she worked so hard to prepare. All hope seems lost, but when one has a fairy godmother watching over her, there’s still a chance for her fortune to change for the better.
The first thing you’d probably be asking yourself when diving into this latest iteration of “Cinderella” is: How is it different from all of the other versions that came before it? Well, to answer that question, it’s not particularly different from its predecessors, though it does return to the tale’s magical roots (“Ever After” was a more “realistic” version of the story) and leaves out most of the singing. In fact, you could say that this is somewhat more of a live-action adaptation of the animated Disney film, featuring all of the classic elements that we remember so well, so while it may not be a particularly original telling of the tale, it does have a delightful nostalgic feel to it for those who grew up with the classic 1950 film.
However, as mentioned earlier, this is one of those stories where you don’t really need to change anything as it’s pretty much perfect the way it’s told, providing a heartwarming story of a young girl who endures so much, only to fall in love and live happily ever after. That being said, that doesn’t mean that the film can’t shine in other areas. Take the amazing cast, for instance. Lily James is marvelous as young Ella (later dubbed “Cinderella” by one of her cruel stepsisters, who comments on the cinders on Ella’s face), bringing out the character’s innocence, kindness, and courage in every scene. Two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett is perfection as the evil stepmother, making you hate her more and more as the film goes on. The film also features noteworthy performances from Richard Madden, Nonso Anozie (both known for their work on “Game of Thrones”), Sir Derek Jacobi (“Hamlet,” “Henry V”), Stellan Skarsgard (“Good Will Hunting”), and Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech”).
Aside from the excellent ensemble, the film boasts some incredible style as seen in the elaborate sets, makeup, and most especially, the costumes, which are almost certainly to garner an Oscar nomination in just a few months for ten-time nominee and three-time winner Sandy Powell (“Shakespeare in Love,” “The Young Victoria”). All of this combines to draw you into the story, one that we may know pretty well, but like with all good stories, we are more than willing to relive it once more when it’s told this well and put together with such flourish (with help from the always-exceptional direction of Sir Kenneth Branagh). “Cinderella” is a magical tale that will never grow old, and while it may be hard to stack it up to its beloved animated counterpart, this latest version is a solid adaptation that easily stands on its own as an entertaining and refreshing telling of this timeless tale.
“Cinderella” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The picture is perfectly sharp, doing a great job of showing off all of the hard work that went into the gorgeous costumes and sets. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio likewise is fantastic, presenting the dialogue and score in excellent quality. Overall, there’s not a single complaint to be had in either department, leaving you with a great experience that couldn’t possibly be improved upon.
A Fairy Tale Comes to Life (9 Minutes): An interesting featurette that has the cast and crew discussing the difficulty in bringing the story and characters to life in a live-action film.
Costume Test Fun (3 Minutes): A very brief behind the scenes look at tests for the elaborate costumes.
Staging the Ball (11 Minutes): A behind the scenes look at how the grand ball scene came together, featuring the cast and crew discussing such elements as the sets, costumes, and makeup. Definitely worth a look.
Alternate Opening: Ella’s Childhood (3 Minutes): This alternate opening to the film, featuring an intro by the director, is described by Branagh as an “experiment,” one in which they tried to establish Ella’s relationship with animals early on. It’s not all that different from the opening that was actually used, but if you’re curious to see how it could have started, you may find it interesting.
Ella’s Furry Friends (4 Minutes): A short featurette that focuses on the animals used in the film. There’s not really anything to be learned here, so it’s easily skippable.
Frozen Fever (8 Minutes): A delightful short featuring the characters from Disney’s “Frozen.”
Sir Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of “Cinderella” may not add anything new to the beloved tale, but with an excellent cast and an elegant sense of style, it makes for a magical and quite charming version of the story that all ages can enjoy. Perhaps most importantly, it makes you feel for this poor young girl stuck in this terrible situation, and despite knowing the outcome, it has you rooting for her the whole way, which only goes to show that even an adaptation of a story told as often as this one can overcome its familiar narrative trappings to become a rousing success.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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