How I Met Your Stepmother
Release Date: OUT NOW!
U | 113 minutes Director: Kenneth Branagh Cast: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Chaplin
From Hamlet to Jack
Ryan, Kenneth Branagh has never been afraid to re- interpret iconic characters. He takes on another biggie with this live- action version of the classic fairytale – albeit in a very play- it- safe fashion. Don’t expect another Maleficent; we’re not about to see events from the point- of- view of the wicked stepmother. This spin on the story is about as adventurous as a cheese sandwich.
Still, Branagh does take a risk in the opening. Once upon a time, we would’ve joined Ella ( Downton Abbey’s Lily James) with just her father ( Ben Chaplin). But here, after a brief interlude of happiness when both parents are alive, Ella’s mother ( Hayley Atwell) passes away – sob! Then comes father’s new wife, Lady Tremaine ( Cate Blanchett) and her two daughters, Anastasia ( Holliday Grainger) and Drizella ( Sophie McShera), and before you know it, father’s died too. That’s a lot to take in if you’re five.
Gradually ostracised and turned into a skivvy, Ella becomes Cinderella, a cruel nickname due to her sooty appearance, while bitterness swells inside Lady Tremaine – twice- widowed and now desperate for her own daughters to marry well. From hereon, you’ll know the story – the prince ( Richard Madden), the royal ball and so on.
Screenwriter Chris Weitz ( American Pie) channels a warped literalism into events. Take the scene where Helena Bonham Carter’s delightfully dippy fairy godmother turns the pumpkin into a golden carriage, lizards into footmen and mice into horses. Later, Weitz takes the idea to its logical conclusion: what would it be like to be inside a moving carriage changing back into a pumpkin? The result is brilliantly conceived and executed.
With Oscar winners Sandy Powell and Dante Ferretti providing costumes and production design, Branagh’s vision is pure luxury – as if Harrods had swapped retail for film production. In particular, the ballroom sequence is staggering.
Credit must go to Lily James, who never lets the visuals sink her performance. There are times, particularly when the bland Madden is on screen, that the wholesomeness gets a bit much. But children will likely have a ball. James Mottram
Cinderella is accompanied in cinemas by Frozen short “Frozen Fever”; it sees Elsa causing havoc on her sister Anna’s birthday.
It’s as if Harrods had swapped retail for film production
And the next flight down also took 25 minutes.