Jonathan Olley
Chris Nashawaty
March 12, 2015 AT 12:00 PM EDT


Current Status
In Season
Jennifer Beals, Jane Alden, Eve Arden, Matthew Broderick, Edie McClurg, Jean Stapleton
Shelley Duvall
Showtime Networks Inc.
Kids and Family, Sci-fi and Fantasy

We gave it a B

With a fairy tale as familiar as Cinderella, the trick in sprucing it up for a new generation is figuring out how to make something that smells distinctly of mothballs seem fresh again. Director Kenneth Branagh, who was last seen putting Chris Pine through the paces in the pulseless Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, has come up with a surprisingly obvious solution by judiciously sprinkling pixie dust where it will be noticed most: casting and costumes. Lily James, best known as the sunny flibbertigibbet cousin Rose on Downton Abbey, stars as Ella—a plucky, porcelain-skinned Disney heroine who loses her mother and then her father to illness, but not before he remarries an icy shrew with two nitwit daughters who become Ella’s scheming stepsisters. If this all sounds pretty much by the book, well, that’s because it is. But what gives the new Cinderella its deliciously sinister spark is who’s doing the tormenting. Enter Cate Blanchett in a delirious swirl of candy-colored evil. As Ella’s wicked stepmother, Blanchett is nasty perfection from her blood red lips to her baroque Sandy Powell-designed gowns. She’s like a cross between Coco Chanel and Norma Desmond, and she smartly plays her harpiedom to the back row of the theater. Ella’s forced to live in the drafty attic, eat leftovers, do menial chores, and sleep by the burning embers of the fireplace (hence her nickname, “Cinderella”). Then, while out in the woods one day, she meets Kit (Richard Madden), a dreamy prince with a jaw so square it could double as a cereal box. He’s smitten, and not just because he is about to inherit his dying father’s throne and needs a princess. The rest of the story (the pumpkin chariot, the glass slipper, etc.) is the epitome of faithfulness. I wish certain stretches of the film moved a little faster (as I’m sure some parents with antsy young ’uns will too), and I’m still a bit wary of the tale’s retrograde notions of what constitutes wish fulfillment for girls. But the fizzy cocktail combination of Blanchett’s cartoonish hauteur and Branagh’s visual razzle-dazzle and confectionary sets (courtesy of the legendary Dante Ferretti) manages to take a tale as wheezy as Cinderella and make it feel almost magical again. B

You May Like