Charming revival of a classic
Fantasy/113 minutes/Opens today
Ella (Lily James) has a loving father (Ben Chaplin), who is a widower. He marries again and the stepmother (Cate Blanchett), jealous of the beautiful Ella, moves her to the attic. There, the lonely girl befriends a group of mice. One day, while fleeing her stepmother, Ella bumps into "Kit" (Richard Madden), a man who claims to be a lowly apprentice. The film is loosely based on the 1950 Disney animated movie.
THIS retelling of an old, old story sets a low bar for story creativity, but the project is infused with just enough easy charm to make it a thoroughly enjoyable, if lightweight, piece of entertainment.
In a time when fairy-tale movies are metaphors for modern anxieties (Into The Woods, 2014), send-ups of classics (Enchanted, 2007) or commentaries on story-telling itself (Maleficent, 2014), this work is about what it says it is about.
It is, in all senses of the phrase, a Cinderella story - that is, a rags-to-riches fantasy in which a young girl rises from obscurity to find love, wealth and social status.
Along the way, it references the 1950 animated classic. There are the helpful team of mice, the dotty Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) to supply the gown, glass slippers and a generous dollop of comic relief.
Director Kenneth Branagh, working with a script from Chris Weitz (writer-director of The Golden Compass, 2007; and About A Boy, 2002), has expunged the story of its queasier notions of a girl awaiting princely rescue or of feminine beauty as the means to hook a royal mate.
Here, the stepmother is wicked not because she is a stepmother, but because she is sad. And stepsisters are ugly not in facial configuration, but in their crass nature.
These updates do not undermine the tale's escapist elements. In fact, they reinforce its primary wish-fulfilment message by making it all a little more believable.
Costume designer Sandy Powell creates a late-19th-century Europe peopled by beribboned cavalry officers in tight jodhpurs and women in gowns that look like they cannot be worn, yet are.
And when gown (James) meets jodhpurs (Madden) in the pivotal ballroom scene, the chemistry is palpable.
In a scene that could have been a large bowl of Edwardian cheese, the two young actors give off plenty of old-fashioned romantic sparks.