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SYNOPSIS: Ella (Lily James) initially welcomes her new stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) into the family home when her father remarries. But after his death, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family, relegated to nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed Cinderella. When she meets Kit (Richard Madden), a dashing stranger in the woods, she is unaware he is really a prince, not merely an apprentice at the Palace. The invitation extended to all maidens to attend a ball at the palace gives Ella hope to meet him again. Thanks to her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), her dream comes true - with the help of a pumpkin, a few mice and a couple of lizards.

Review by Louise Keller:
If the slipper fits ... and of course it does. Just like everything comes together and falls into place in this Disney classic that while updated, never loses the wonder and magic of the original animated fairy tale. Courage and kindness are the themes and director Kenneth Branagh, with a screenplay by Chris Weitz (About A Boy), has created a breathtakingly beautiful film filled with fantasy, romance, humour and humanity. Visually, the film comes alive with its stunning settings, extravagant costumes and magical special effects that meld easily into the mix.

There are many highlights, but none more memorable than the sequence when the clock strikes midnight and the goose that Helena Bonham Carter's Fairy Godmother had transformed into a long-nosed coachman reverts to its natural state, as does the lizard footmen, the mice that morphed into dashing white steeds and the ornate gold carriage that reverts to its original state of garden pumpkin. It's a bumpy ride for the radiant Ella (Lily James) in her shimmering cobalt blue ball gown that accentuates her tiny waist as the night in which she and the prince (Richard Madden) gazed into each other's eyes comes to a crashing end as the pumpkin bursts - just like her dreams. This follows the splendid ball scene, when the crowd parts like the Red Sea as Cinderella and her prince fall into each other's arms on the dance floor.

Bonham Carter is a wonderfully ditzy character, who despite her glamorous appearance (once her initial beggar-woman persona has been discarded) is less than assured. Everything seems to be hit or miss as she improvises whilst preparing Cinderella for the ball, bringing the film's funniest and quirkiest sequence.

Deliciously wicked (and with a wardrobe to die for - by Sandy Powell) is Cate Blanchett, playing the crass, vulgar and wicked stepmother with theatrical glee. Her first appearance - with grumpy cat Lucifer on a leash - sets the scene. But there is depth to her characterization: there's world-weariness about her widow, whose desperation makes us swing between contempt and pity as her jealous and opportunistic world dangles on a tight rope. As she tells Cinderella that she is young, innocent and good, we understand that she knows she is describing everything she is not. Colour is used to epitomize vulgarity - which it does effectively in Blanchett's eye-popping clothes as well as those of the two ugly sister Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera). By contrast, Cinderella's gowns are in varying soft shades of blue.

James is perfect as Cinderella - beautiful, good and kind, while Madden with baby blue eyes and perfect teeth is ideal as the handsome prince. They are lovely together, epitomizing the fantasy of romance of which every girl dreams. Stellan Skarsgard and Derek Jacobi are solid additions to the cast as are blue-birds (of happiness), fireworks, castles, roses and dreams - and of course the glass slipper, which fits only one foot. Cinderella is everything we could hope for - a beautiful film that champions a fairy tale propelled by goodness, but offers just enough humour to bring it down to earth.

The Sydney Premiere at the splendid State Theatre was a gala affair; little girls (and big ones too) enjoying the opportunity to don a tiara amid the flowers and festivities.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Disney's live action Cinderella benefits from Ken Branagh's kudos in being able to attract the kind of cast and achieving the kind of tone such a well known and loved fairy tale needs. Cate Blanchett as the Stepmother from hell, Lily James as the Cinderella from heaven and the pocket rocketry of Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother, not to mention Derek Jacobi as the dying King ... which brings us to the death toll in this story, with (almost) every good man and woman passing away. [eg Ella's mother, Ella's father, the Prince's mother, the Prince's father, the Stepmother's two husbands...]

And that in turn brings us to the difficulties of making a live action film from a fairy story, which can survive the flimsy devices (like key characters dying simply to serve the plot, or making inconceivably bad marriage choices) and the inconsistencies in the story, as well as the often cheesy dialogue required. In a story book or even animation, these flaws are easily overlook as part of the medium. Not so in live action, and the first half of the film suffers from the harshness of the live action reality.

Ironically, it is only when the fairy tale magic action starts with the (badly made up) old Fairy Godmother as she transforms into the gorgeous version, that the film becomes credible on its own terms and starts to take off.

Branagh delights in cranking up the awful stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger) and in casting likeable black dude, Nonso Anozie, as the kind hearted Captain against Stellan Skarsgard's corruptible Grand Duke. Richard Madden, poor bugger, plays the decent, honest, incorruptible romantic male lead, a vanilla role impossible to pull off effectively in live action; but he does the best that can be done.

Visually spectacular, from the oversized castle (for such a small kingdom) to the ornately beautiful magic coach that takes Cinderella to the ball, the stunning ball gowns and the fairyland countryside, the film does weave some magic for its target audience (which is less world weary than this reviewer) - if they can stay attentive for almost 2 hours.

There is also a smattering of fun and humour, including the magical transformations required to drive and manage the magic coach, with mice turning into horses and lizards into footmen - all with tongue in cheek good humour.

The message - have courage and be kind - is hammered home but who can complain: it's a decent enough message.

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(US, 2015)

CAST: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Hayley Atwell, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Derek Jacobi

PRODUCER: David Barron, Simon Kinberg, Allison Shearmur

DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh

SCRIPT: Chris Weitz

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Haris Zambarioukos

EDITOR: Martin Walsh

MUSIC: Patrick Doyle


RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes



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