I feel like on some level, the 2015 version Cinderella was cast just for me. I mean it had people from Game of Thrones (Richard Madden and Nonso Anozie), Downton Abbey (Lily James and Sophie McShera), The Borgias (Holliday Grainger) and a former Frollo (Derek Jacobi). Plus it has pretty costumes. How could I could not love it? Well, all I can say is that I wish I could like this movie more than I do. I respect it on one level but on another I’m tepid to it.
This movie was based on the 1950 version of Cinderella which is the Disney version and it also has peppering of Ever After all over it. I should also note that Kenneth Branagh.
Lily James as Ella and Richard Madden as Prince Kit
This movie is for the most part a standard re-telling of Cinderella. Ella lives in a dream of peace with her loving parents until tragic fatal disease #742 kills her dear momma. As she dies, she tells Ella to have courage and be kind, which is the mantra of the movie.
Flash forward years as teenage-ish Ella’s dear papa remarries Lady Tremaine who has two daughters, Anastasia and Drisella. After a month Ella’s dear father goes off on merchant business but not before Lady Tremaine overhears Ella and her new husband recount that they miss Ella’s dear momma and that Lady T can be trying, this is the reason why Lady T dislikes Ella, at least the best reason the film offers.
While Ella’s dear papa is gone Lady T literally wastes no time pushing Ella into the attic and calling her Madam. Then Ella’s dear papa dies of tragic fatal disease #1092 while he is on his business trip. This is when Ella becomes the help which she doesn’t mind that much as it offers a distraction. Lady T and the girls are mean to her by calling her Cinderella as she sleeps in front fire and not letting her eat with them. This makes Cinderella ride off into the woods. There she see a stag that being chased, she help the stag by having it run off with her animals speaking powers which is powered with kindness. She then meets the Prince who just introduces himself a Kit. They bond and stuff and Ella tells Kit that just because things are done doesn’t mean they should be.
Because Kit didn’t get Ella’s name he asks his father, the King (name withheld) to allow all the maidens of the kingdom to come to the ball. The King agrees but urges Kit that he needs to marry a Princess and for some reason the Grand Duke wants it to be the Princess Chelina of Zaragosa, which is this movie’s answer to Spain, hey wait why she get a name but the villains don’t?
Anyway so the ball comes and Ella wears her dear momma’s dress but Lady T rips it and tells her she can’t go to the ball. Then enters the Fairy God Mother who does the magic, coach, animals to servants, beautiful ball gown, glass shoe and a disguise spell so Lady T and crew won’t know it’s her. So yeah, grand ball scene and dance with the Prince and running away at curfew and leaving the shoe. You know the drill. Also Kit still didn’t get her name.
Ok so here is where the movie gets little confusing, or just weird. So the King dies and he tells Kit he can marry for love but the Grand Duke is REALLY pushing for Princess Chelina. But Kit and him strike a deal that all the maidens will try on the shoe that Ella left and if he can’t find her he will marry Chelina. It’s also at this point that Lady T figures out that Ella is the mysterious princess that danced with the Prince. Lady T tries to brokerage a deal with Ella that she will allow Anastasia and Drisella to marry well and that Lady T will manage the country. Ella rejects this deal as Lady T would be terrible for the country. So then Lady T break the shoe and then goes brokrage a deal with the Grand Duke which is the Lady T will make Ella out of the way and she will get a peerage and the good marriages for her daughters.
So the royal maiden shoe fitter search is on and you would THINK Kit could tell which one was Ella was or at least have the fitting apply only to young blonde but they go through every single maiden. The last place is Lady T’s house. Ella is up in the attic and she doesn’t even care that people are in her house as she just figure it not for her and she would rather twirl around and sing. The mice open the window so the people can hear her singing. As it turns out Kit, who now the king is with them unknown to The Grand Duke. So they get Ella and she finally tells Kit her name, or rather her mean nickname but it’s ok he is happy that he found her. Ella forgives Lady T who then gets banished. And Ella and Kit get married, yay.
Jana Perez as Princess Chelina and Stellan Skarsgård as The Grand Duke
I have a few questions. Number #1 why did the Grand Duke want princess Chelina as Queen? Did I miss that plot point? Was she or someone from her kingdom black mailing him? Were they lovers and her marrying Kit would allow for them to be together? Was he bribed? I mean tell me movie because that was his core character. If there is no reason for it what is the point I mean for more than drama? Number#2 Kit was hunting in the forest near Ella’s house and judging from shot of them going to house for the shoe it looked pretty remote, so why didn’t go there in the first place? Was it because he thought she was a Princess? Also he knew her features. I dunno seemed out place with the narrative. Number #3 How did Lady T figure out that it was Ella at the ball? I didn’t see anything that indicated that she knew till the scene where she knew. Did she read the scripit? I have other issues with Lady T, so let’s just continue.
Lily James as Ella and Richard Madden as Prince Kit
As was mentioned before, this movie is a live-action remake of the Disney movie. As it goes it follows the movie decently but the focus is a little weird. To bring the movie into the modern standard, Ella and Prince Charming now named Kit meet prior to the ball. I just want to point out that Kit is a nickname for Christopher which is the name of the Prince in the Rodgers and Hammerstein version. However is having them meet once while both of them withhold information about themselves any better? Ella not giving her name for really no reason and Kit saying that he apprentice, being heir to the throne isn’t really an apprentice thought it’s a clever bending of the truth. At least in Ever After, Danielle’s lie made sense as she was trying to save a man while prentending to a member a court.
On a story level this makes sense, we need them to have more to their romance other that their being attractive but I don’t get a sense of love from them. But what this movie is really doing is giving the Prince and his father more of a characterization than in the Disney movie where the King just wanted grandchildren and the Prince is a plot point.
I do respect that Kit went along in the search for Ella. I mean it’s like duh that he should search her out as he wanted to marry her but it was entertaining that the mere fact that he was there thwarted the Grand Duke and Lady Tremaine.
Lily James as Ella and Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine
Then we have the villains, Lady Tremaine and The Grand Duke. I would say Lady Tremaine is more the villain, however compared to the Disney version and Ever After she falls short.
First off she comes more cartoony than the cartoon and she is really chewing the pretty sets. The reason for her hating Ella is that Ella’s father prefers his first wife so she was jealous and that pretty much it. At least in Ever After, Danielle’s father’s last words were to Danielle after he looked at Rodmilla and passed her over to give his dying words to his child. Both women are petty but still, Ella’s father didn’t know she even heard him.
Second Lady Tremaine was more concerned with having parties so why the hell did she try to make a power grab? It was WAY out of character. On the practical level in the story Ella can’t go with any deal Lady Tremaine offers so there needs to the bull-shit where Ella has to be sacrifice her chance for happiness for the good of Kit and the country but it was dumb. Lady Tremaine’s deal with The Grand Duke made more sense and I think Ella probably would have gone for that deal over the one the Lady Tremaine offered her in the place.
Lily James as Ella
Speaking of Cinderella, this version of her is polarizing. The point of her character is that she is kind and has courage but this also makes her looks like she is a push-over. She doesn’t really stand up for herself, instead she just takes the abuse. The idea here that she has the strength and courage to look the other way and she still be kind. This isn’t a bad thing so much but even if we compare her to the Disney version, Cinderella had snarky comments and she did try and talk back. Really it does make this Cinderella look more passive than the 1950’s version.
However my big issue with Cinderella is that when it came done to her getting a happy ending, she literally didn’t care. She just twirls around then sat her window and sang a little song. If the mice didn’t open the window she wouldn’t have married Kit. There was a deleted scene where she did write Kit a letter and the Grand Duke withheld it. Honestly the should kept that scene as it gave her a little agency and made the Grand Duke more a villainous bent.
I like that the movie didn’t make Cinderella some super-hero woman but it’s telling when the “Passive” 1950 does more to get out the attic (it was her idea to get the dog to save the mouse with the key from the cat) than this “modern” re-telling who really just twirls and dreams. Though I like that she was never a princess, she went right to Queen.
Helena Bonham Carter as The Fairy Godmother
One of the big issues with movie is the pacing, this movie feels very long. It could be because the movie spends a longtime setting up Ella’s happy childhood and downfall but rushes Lady Tremaine’s contempt and the love story. It also doesn’t get into the Grand Duke’s motives.
Also the movie has weird set-ups. Like Ella’s dear momma tells her about fairy godmother when she is a kid but when the Godmother is introduced she starts as old woman and then changes. It would better to either set up the old woman, like they do in the Rodgers and Hammerstein version OR have the her be a butterfly that followed Ella (since they do set-up the motif on her dress). OR just mimic the original where the Godmother appears while comforting her. I really just felt that scene was awkward. And I hated the narrating by the fairy godmother, it got in the way.
Lily James as Ella
If I seem like I’m bitching about this movie too much well there was something I liked. The technicals, this movie is glorious. Everything about the look of this movie is beautiful.
This movie lives in the costume. Most of the costumes have a 50’s vibe to it which is homage to the original movie. Cinderella’s ball gown really is a work of art, it moves so gracefully and has a watercolor quality that is just lovely. Really this movie looks so lush and rich.
Also the acting is not bad on the whole, though I wish Anastasia and Drisella did more, they really aren’t much more than featured extras.
Lily James as Ella, Sophie McShera as Drisella and Holliday Grainger as Anastasia
On the hand I do like Cinderella (2015) but it feels too long and some the decisions that movie makes with updating the plot are just weird and confusing.
Side Note – if we got Jana Perez (the lady who played Chelina) and Holliday Grainger (Anastasia) as Esmeralda and Fleur-de-Lys in a movie version of Hunchback, I would be a-ok with that. Or Lily James as Fleur-de-Lys that would be fine too.
Clue 1 and Clue 2