I’m not a huge fan of fairy tales. I was able to stick with Once Upon a Time for about three seasons before I just gave up. I have no interest in Maleficent. But I ended up going with my wife to see this Kenneth Branagh version of forced child labor.
For the first act, I was really gritting my teeth. Cinderella (Lily James) was a cute, cuddly cypher of a character. All bad things happened to her, and she was perpetually sunny. That’s a good character trait, but makes for bad cinema. Then, we get Cate Blanchett playing the most evil stepmother. Yes, I get that we see some of her motivation, but that’s no excuse for characterization that’s so stark and devoid of nuance. The step-sisty uglers were even less impressive and more cardboard.
The film pulled itself out of the doldrums in the second act, with the introduction of the Prince (Richard Madden) and his dad, the King (Derek Jacobi). The drive to get the prince married is politically motivated, and there are others in the administration (notably Stellan Skarsgård) whose motivations are a bit darker. I liked this bit. I also liked the organic way they introduced the Prince to Cinderella and got them talking (and falling for each other) long before she shows up at the dance. It’s not a reinvention of the romantic genre or anything, but it’s better than the “love at first sight” thing you see in other adaptations of the tale.
I also really enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter eschewing the darker side of her performances and playing the Fairy Godmother kooky and lively. The effects with the mice and the pumpkin and what-not were all exciting and fun.
All in all, this was a pretty good film. You just have to work your way past a rocky start to get to a sweet little romance.