It’s gorgeous. You should know that before you reject another Disney take on Ella of the cinders. And it’s not a musical. Can’t you just hear a chorus of boys sigh with relief? Cinderella is the first of the new Mouse House attempts to turn its animated classics into live-action crowd-pleasers (next up is Beauty and the Beast, with Emma Watson as Belle). Count Cinderella as a dazzling dream of a movie from director Kenneth Branagh, who can leap from the Bard (Henry V) to the boffo (Thor) with no apparent sweat.
The radiant Lily James (Lady Rose on Downton Abbey) brings a glint of frisky feminism to the mistreated Ella. Even her first meeting, on horseback, with the prince (Richard Madden of Game of Thrones), who pretends he’s a lowly palace intern, shows she has ideas on how to run a kingdom. It’s a shame that the script, by Chris Weitz (About a Boy), doesn’t bust loose more often, settling for grand instead of groundbreaking.
It helps that Cate Blanchett lets it rip as Ella’s evil stepmom. Blanchett is perfectly marvelous, shrewdly blending wicked fun with secret hurt. Nothing steals a scene from Blanchett, except Sandy Powell’s costumes and Dante Ferretti’s production design, which are all kinds of wonderful. And Branagh’s staging of the ball scene, lush enough to rival the one in Vincente Minnelli’s Madame Bovary, is to die for.