A charming, live-action version of the classic fairytale, this Walt Disney film pays homage to its 1950 animation but updates the romance to be more democratic.
In a lush and settled land somewhere a century or so ago, a well-off merchant and his beautiful wife lead an idyllic life with their kind and gentle daughter, Ella (Lily James).
But tragedy lurks for the happiest of families, with the mother passing away and the father eventually remarrying. After installing his new wife and her two daughters in the home, Ella’s father departs for his merchant travels, only to die before his return.
Unspoiled Ella is treated by her step-mother (Cate Blanchett) and sisters as a drudge, befriended only by the household mice – until she meets a handsome young man, Kit, who calls himself an apprentice at the court and who calls to her heart as no other. Wonderfully, Ella herself can speak to his mind and tell him a useful thing or two.
In reality, Kit is the Prince, who embodies humility in his role as son to the ailing King in the unspecified European principality. Amid all the palace pomp and ceremony, he wangles an open invitation to the ladies of the land for the ball where tradition dictates he must choose a bride.
Ella, of the cinders, will not be taken by her step-mother. But her goodness, bravery and courage will not be forsaken: “For you shall go to the ball,” decrees the Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter). And who is the girl to resist?
There is no quibble about the story, which for the contemporary audience includes a subplot machination by the Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgard) to engineer an engagement alliance with a powerful neighbour.
What is primarily pumped up is the dynamic between royal son and father, where the Prince (Richard Madden) values the guidance of his father (Derek Jacobi) and their relationship is strong.
There is also more psychologically at play in Ella’s connection with her step-mother.
While Ella endures much physical and emotional deprivation at the hands of the hard-boiled Lady Tremaine (Blanchett is in tremendous form), we come to see that she is paying out her own loss and disappointment.
Commoner Ella and the privileged Prince are sympathetically matched, each with their own shiny bright eyes and guileless smiles. The old folk refrain – Lavender’s blue, dilly, dilly, lavender’s green / When I am king, dilly, dilly, you shall be queen – effectively connects them; indeed, the music throughout is sweet and faultless (though perhaps without any Frozen-type super-hit).
In the most enduring of fairytale features comes the transformation – and in this case, spectacularly, it’s a reverse transformation (watch for the wonderful lizard). Mostly, though, it’s all about the dress, which is indeed a magical confection. Oh, and the glass slipper, in this case Swarovski crystal shoes.
For the school holidays, don’t go past the bluebirds, forget-me-nots and happiness this will induce for young and old.
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