The Stroke of Midnight
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The next installment in the Disney franchise of resurrecting animated films into a live-action one, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Cinderella is not in any way an attempt to tell a radically different story in the vein of last year’s average offering Maleficent. He sticks largely faithfully to the original and that adherent slavishness is both the film’s strength and its undercurrent of weakness. There’s certainly an argument to be made as to whether or not these live action adaptations are even necessary, and while Cinderella is a solid film in and of itself, it will do little to assuage those critics as it overall adds little to the original. But the little that it adds fits nicely into the post-Frozen Disney era that is defined by its leading ladies having a backbone and independent thought. The Cinderella of the original classic was kind, but there was little else to her. Lily James’s version has a spine to her and she’s not afraid to stand up for what she wants. For that alone, Branagh’s indelibly lavish addition to the Disney canon can stand more proudly.
The most obvious change made to the film first and foremost is that the Prince meets Cinderella beforehand during a hunt and she reprimands him for hunting in the first place. Instead of being offended, the Prince is undeniably charmed (see what I did there?) and that burning desire within him only bursts into further flames when she arrives in all of her beautiful glory at the ball. The two primary changes to the structure of the original that don’t entirely work here are the omissions of musical numbers and the talking animals who befriend Cinderella and make her a dress faster than any tailor on the planet. Not every Disney film is required by any extent to be a musical, but there are several moments where it felt as if a musical number would be on cue but they never really appear and it just leads to a sort of awkward pause every so often. Cinderella’s mice friends don’t talk in Branagh’s version and while at initial glance it’s not that grand of a change, when Cinderella talks to them and garners their help, the scenes where she is talking to them feel significantly awkward as a result.
The casting is largely solid here, bursting with a far more ethnically diverse supporting cast than Disney is generally known for. Lily James of Downton Abbey equips herself well within the titular role and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) makes a fine prince who doesn’t die at a wedding this time around. Veteran actors Ben Chaplin and Marvel powerhouse Hayley Atwell make brief appearances as Cinderella’s parents at the beginning of the film. Helena Bonham Carter is perfectly cast as the eccentric but wise Fairy Godmother and she brings just the right amount of pizazz to the delightfully bright proceedings about her. Drisella and Anastasia find their live action counterparts in the perfectly able hands of Sophie McShera (Downton Abbey) and Holliday Grainger (The Borgias), respectively. But the powerhouse performance of all belongs to Cate Blanchett, who essentially can do no wrong, climbs into the role of Lady Tremaine with panache, relishing in the wickedness the role brings her. She takes charge of the entire proceedings and certainly the film glimmers the most when she is on screen. The script gives her a more complex backstory than the original, but it isn’t followed through with as much depth as it ought to have been.
Above all else, Branagh’s Cinderella is an astoundingly lavish event that is breathtakingly beautiful. In relative contradiction to what has become the norm for big budget film production, Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos decided to film Cinderella on actual film in anamorphic widescreen. The result is a unequivocally stunning production that shines on every single visual mode that bursts with loud color and brightness in a way that few films these days do. There’s a few moments when that color becomes a bit too loud but otherwise the film’s aesthetics can do wrong. There’s a particular shot of when Cinderella is running down the steps of the palace that is absolutely stunning to behold, with Branagh’s fluid camera sweeping across the palace and out into the cold, frigid night. Patrick Doyle’s composition is appropriately epic and nostalgic, its harmonious melody blending in seamlessly with its magical surroundings. The fairytale of old has been captured well in the new Cinderella and while it doesn’t strike as new and bold as some of Disney’s latest offerings despite having been presented with the opportunities to do so, it is a deserving addition to the Disney canon on its own.
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Produced by: Simon Kinberg, David Barron, Allison Shearmur
Screenplay by: Chris Weitz
Based On: Disney’s Cinderella; Cendrillon by Charles Perrault
Starring: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Stellan Skarsgård, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Chaplin, Nonso Anozie, Sophie McShera, Hayley Atwellc
Music: Patrick Doyle
Cinematography: Haris Zambarloukos
Editing: Martin Walsh
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Dates: February 13, 2015 (Berlin), March 13, 2015 (United States), April 3, 2015 (South Africa)
Image Courtesy: The Hollywood Reporter