Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Running Time: 105 mins
Verdict: Visually impressive, wholesome and fun
Kenneth Branagh's live action adaptation of Cinderella is a delightful rendition, if surprisingly traditional, that honours the classic fairy tale with a sweet, humorous and earnest treatment befitting a Disney film.
It is also a lavish, big-budget visual feast of extravagant costumes, idyllic country settings and an opulent royal household. The cast is stellar, with Cate Blanchett as Cinderella's stepmother, Derek Jacobi as the king, Stellan Skarsgard as the king's adviser, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. It's Cinderella who really matters though, and Branagh has cast well with Downton Abbey's Lily James (Lady Rose) stepping into the role.
James manages to convey Cinderella's sweetness without making her nauseating, which is quite an effort given Cinderella is thoughtful, kind, and perhaps annoyingly good. She also has a lovely chemistry with her Prince, played by Richard Madden, which is as intellectual as it is physical, and stands her ground alongside Blanchett, who has a ball hamming up the evil stepmother.
Actually, they all seen to be having fun, with Branagh wavering at times but generally keeping the tone just the right side of corny; opting for funny, warm and heartfelt when it could have easily been soap opera silly.
Although still taking its origins from the 1950s animation with its period setting and determination to be an enchanting fairy tale, Branagh has created a 21st century version - mercifully, the singing has gone, and birds are few and far between, and the mice and animal chit-chat is minimal.
Watch: Trailer: Disney's Cinderella
More importantly, he's given Cinderella an awareness of her situation; she needs a dress and ride to the ball, but she in no way needs rescuing. Her connection to the prince is genuine, in stark contrast to her vapid stepsisters, who represent the modern-day obsession with all things celebrity.
There are some truly magical scenes, the dress Cinderella wears when she descends into the ballroom to dance with the prince will replace Elsa's frocks as the costume of choice for young girls, and Helena Bonham Carter provides much hilarity as the "off-her-game" fairy godmother, including destroying a glasshouse when attempting to turn a pumpkin into a carriage.
A highlight is Rob Brydon in a cameo role that's just plain odd; you wonder if Branagh bumped into him at Pinewood Studios and just asked him to improvise a scene. Cast as a court painter hired to paint the prince, he completely steals this show with his deadpan humour.
For all this though, the pacing of the film does waver at times, but those lamenting the lack of old-fashioned family films should savour this lovely retelling - it doesn't get much more wholesome.