It’s every little girl’s fantasy. Being a princess. And among all the princesses, Cinderella is arguably the fairest of them all.
Director Kenneth Branagh (“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” “Thor”) took reign of adapting this timeless tale, “Cinderella.” Unlike the reinvention of the last several adaptations, which edges on the darker side, such as “Snow White and The Huntsman“ and “Into the Woods,” or leans towards modern feminism in “Frozen“ and “Maleficent,” “Cinderella” is a straightforward retelling of the classic, although it’s not without surprising gems.
The story begins with a little girl named Ella (Lily James), who lives in a stately estate in a sunlit forest.
Deeply loved and cherished by her parents, she has a golden childhood. Before her mother (Hayley Atwell, “Captain America: The First Avenger”) passes due to illness, she imparts upon her young daughter to “have courage and be kind.”
Ella grows up and continues to have a loving relationship with her father (Ben Chaplin), a worldly merchant.
The mansion is elegantly and artfully decorated with paintings, statues, tapestries, brocades and other craft items from his travels abroad.
Things start to change when Ella’s father brings home a new stepmother, Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett, “Hanna”) with her two daughters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera).
Blanchett looks like she’s having a ball, vamping up the role with style and malice.
Ella’s life becomes unbearable after her father dies and her sinister stepmother and snobbish stepsisters took full control. She’s relegated to being a servant, sleeping in a dusty attic, serving their every need on hand and foot, and poorly treated in general.
She’s nicknamed Cinderella (from Cinder-Ella), since her face is often plastered with ash.
While sorrowful, Ella continues to show kindness and takes joy in simple things, like friendship with her animated mice companions.
One day Ella rides into the forest to escape from her misery, she has a run-in with a handsome young man (Richard Madden), who unbeknownst to her is Prince Charming.
The down-to-earth prince is instantly enraptured by her spirit, beauty and goodness. They part ways without knowing each other’s identity.
Majestic views of the coastal kingdom, nestled among verdant mountains, will take your breath away. Back at the castle, the prince is pushed by his father (Derek Jacobi) and adviser (Stellan Skarsgard) to find a princess and marry for the sake of the kingdom. A kingdom needs stability, which means a suitable, political marriage and an heir.
The prince seizes the opportunity to hold a royal ball and open the invitations to every maiden in the land, with the hope of finding the mystery girl who has captured his heart. At his deathbed, the king wises up and gives his blessing for his son to marry for love.
It’s a tender exchange mirroring Ella’s final scene with her mother.
While in despair for not being able to attend the royal ball, fairy godmother, gleefully played by Helena Bonham Carter (“Les Miserables,” “The King’s Speech”) makes her presence known to Cinderella, after initially testing her for kindness.
The fairy magic does wonders. It’s magical to see Cinderella transform, twirl and glow in the shimmery ball gown and sparkling glass slippers.
And the rest is a delightful treat because of the gradual transmutations where you can still see partial semblance to the original forms. From pumpkin turning carriage, mice into horses, goose into coachman, lizards into footmen, and back to their origins.
At the entrance of the ballroom, Cinderella glides through the staircase and sparkles among a sea of colors as the belle of the ball. She captures everyone’s attention, especially the prince’s, who asks her for a dance.
They only have eyes for each other and gracefully dance. They step out and talk, and while Cinderella is now aware of the identity of the man she met in the forest, the prince is still in the dark.
True to the original, Cinderella dashes before the clock strikes midnight and accidentally slips out of one of her glass slippers.
The prince vows to find her and orders a kingdom-wide search for the right maiden who will fit into the slipper. He’s smart enough to know there may be forces against him and takes precaution to ensure that the searches would be thorough and fair.
Lady Tremaine eventually finds out that Cinderella was the “mystery princess.”
She makes a wicked offer to take advantage of Cinderella’s position, one that she could easily accept as a way out, but promptly refuses.
She then makes a last-ditch effort to lock Cinderella in the attic and hide her from sight.
Love, of course, finds a way, and Cinderella is reunited with her prince. For an old-fashioned story, it ends with an empowering message to speak your mind, stay true to yourself and have the courage to do the right thing.
James is excellent throughout; she not only radiates Cinderella’s humility, pure-heartedness and innocence, but she also carries her with poise and confidence.
Lushly gorgeous and opulently vibrant, “Cinderella” is so earnest and charming that you’ll be swept away in the dreamy fairy-tale romance and magic of happily ever after.
Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com. Twitter the_moviemaven.