Release date: 27 March 2015
Running time: 105 min
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgård, Derek Jacobi
The Disney Princess has undergone quite the evolution in the 65-odd years since the release of their beloved animated feature Cinderella. The Nineties saw Jasmine and Pocahontas breakdown racial barriers, Mulan showed that women are just as capable in a scrap as their male counterparts, and more recently Elsa and Anna proved you don’t need a man to save the day. Once a symbol of purity, helpless until their heroic prince appeared, this just-a-pretty-face approach no longer cuts it in cinema. Which leads almost full circle to Uncle Walt’s latest offering, a live-action remake of the 1950 classic, with the biggest challenge now facing director Kenneth Branagh is how to modernise one of the studio’s most passive heroines.
Have courage and be kind; that is the mantra hammered into us from the get-go. It’s a philosophy adopted by Lily James’ titular heroine, an attempt to modernise her by making her plight about grace and poise in the face of adversity as opposed to just being a doormat for her evil stepmother (played with suitable wicked gusto by Cate Blanchett). As a mission statement it doesn’t quite pack the same punch as ‘Let it Go’, Queen Elsa’s declaration of independence belted out midway through Frozen, but it is progress of sorts. It certainly works better than having her don a suit of armour and charge into battle like other recent fairytale updates (I’m looking at you Alice in Wonderland and Snow White and the Huntsman).
Minor advancements in gender politics aside, Branagh isn’t doing much else to shake up the formula. And why should he? It’s a tried and tested story that is ingrained across pretty much every age bracket. The sets and costumes are as grandiose as you would expect from the man who brought you The Magic Flute – all sweeping ballrooms and lavish castles – but the real beauty is in cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos’ impressive attention to detail. The cast largely embrace their roles, but the script gives few opportunities to dazzle. It makes for a visually impressive, vaguely progressive, but ultimately uninteresting retelling of a beloved story. Don’t expect it to live long in the memory after the clock strikes midnight.