Fairytales are having a renaissance. From the grotesque, dark, high-fantasy world of Snow White and the Huntsman (2011) to the glamorous cheekbones of Angelina Jolie in Maleficent(2014) there is a trend, and evidently an audience, for the reinvention of the familiar tales. No surprise then that the internet recently rejoiced at the news that Emma Watson will be playing Belle in the new version of Beauty and the Beast.
These new adaptations tend to rely upon twisting and darkening their traditional Disney-esque versions as a means of appealing to a modern audience. The demand for barefooted, high-pitched princesses has been replaced by the appeal of sassy, sword-handling heroines: enter Frozen. Yet, as the disappointing outcome of Into The Woods (2014) demonstrated, the reincarnation of the fairytale does not always solidify its success. Perhaps this is where Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Cinderella fits into the trend.
From the beginning, the romanticised tone is established. In an idyllic farmhouse, complete with happy geese and fresh green meadows, Cinderella (played by Lily James) grows up with her two doting parents until tragedy strikes – in the form of a comically melodramatic deathbed scene – and the young protagonist is left without her mother. Presuming you know the rest of the story, I’ll say simply that this new version strays little from the 1950 Disney cartoon.
This film has not escaped a backlash. Criticism of James’ waistline and the lack of Frozen-esque independent heroines have tarnished the film’s sparkly press run. Firstly, while James may be slim, I would suggest that her waist is pronounced by the garishly flamboyant costumes of the film which attempt to mimic (with unrealistic effect) the gowns from the previous animation, regardless however shouldn’t we dispense with the constant critique of women’s bodies, regardless of size? In terms of the latter criticism, the film is more ambiguous. There is nothing particularly anti-feminist about the story, but the messages of empowerment are perhaps more subtle. Cinderella protests the barbaric hunting of a stag when she first meets the prince and helps him to escape a plan of arranged marriage as the story progresses, the argument that she is the one to save him is substantial. Furthermore, Cate Blanchett as the glamorous, icy stepmother is a high point. The reference to the character’s back story provides explanation to her cruelty preventing the story from following the simplistic good versus evil binary.
Cinderella is wholesome but farcical. The recurrent message of ‘have courage and be kind’ is one with universal resonance but, in terms of providing something innovative to these times of fairytale revitalization, the film falls flat.
This article was originally published in Qmunicate magazine