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Film Review: Dazzling, dreamlike Cinderella

In a star-making turn on the silver screen aided by fantastic costume design, Lily James brings Disney’s animated classic to life.

Saturday 4 April 2015, 11:00AM

Parisa Pichitmarn
Bangkok Post


Four Stars

Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård, Holiday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Sophie McShera, Hayley Atwell, and Helena Bonham Carter

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Running time: 113 minutes

Good old storytelling and a bit of magic is what Disney does best (and should stick to).Let’s all just sit back and be dreamy-eyed for a change – everything the Mouse House has churned out with a try-hard dark twist was terribly bland and forgettable (ahem, Alice In Wonderland) – or, in Maleficent’s case, like watching an hour-long ad for Angelina Jolie.

Cinderella, the latest animated film to be zapped into live-action, is straightforward, but charming at the right moments. So much is done right simply by not transforming everything into a computer-generated wasteland or turning Helena Bonham Carter into an outlandish kook. She may be playing the absent-minded fairy godmother, but her crazyness is bottled away in this one – and all for the better.

Set in a fanciful land in the 1800s, the palaces channel a flowery Versailles, and Cinderella’s lush country home is filled with trinkets her merchant father brings back from around the world. Yet, it’s a “small” and unstrategic kingdom, too, signalling certain implications on how the Prince must choose his future bride. Unlike Disney’s 1950 animated film, we’re given a long look into Ella’s life, pre-rag days, before she becomes the world-recognised Cinderella.

There are moments of genuine heartbreak. What fills in the void are Ella’s marvellously ridiculous stepsisters (played by Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera) and her pouty yet uber-glam stepmother, Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett).

Cinderella is a costume enthusiast’s dream come true, with the supreme baddie the best-dressed of them all. The rich colours and dark jewels add up to impeccably create Blanchett’s character, regal, broody, vampy and cruel. Academy-Award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell really nails it with this movie. The spectacular costumes – which, except for the stepsisters, are never too garish – will surely become icons to be talked about for years.

Little CGI was needed for Cinderella’s most magical scene, thanks to Powell’s spectacular blue gown that Cinderella wears to the ball. The leading lady is dressed to enchant, with thousands of crystals in her hair and bedecking her gown that look anything but gauche and gaudy. When she twirls in her whirlpool of pearly blue smoke (made of silk crepeline), all eyes are glued to the screen to take in how wonderfully her dress cascades and flows on the dance floor. It’s a simple but breathtaking scene, one that soars thanks to the chemistry between Cinderella, the Prince and the dress.

It is Lily James who shines the brightest. From a chipper flapper that never hesitates to talk back to her upper-crust fam jam in Downton Abbey, James’ on-screen persona gets a downgrade when she trades in her aristocratic hat for soot and somewhat of a pushover personality.

Yet Cinderella isn’t cloying, and the natural vivacity James brings to the screen – and this old story – is a breath of fresh air to the character.



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