Title: Cinderella

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Starring; Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Derek Jacobi and Helena Bonham Carter

The alluring and charming nature of fairy tales offer an extensive wealth of opportunity for film studios to make a quick and easy profit off of audiences who are easily drawn to the adaptations, as they wish to relish their sentimental memories that instantly connect them to their innocent childhoods as they watch the movies. Some recent big screen version of these popular fairy tales, such as the Oscar-nominated musical version of ‘Into the Woods,’ and the commercially successful dark fantasy ‘Maleficent,’ effectively captured viewers’ nostalgia of the popular stories of their youth. Unfortunately, other live action adaptations of fairy tales, including ‘Red Robin Hood’ and ‘Jack the Giant Slayer,’ were considered critical and box office failures, due in part to their ineffective visual effects, plotlines and acting. But the latest fairy tale to receive a live action adaptation, ‘Cinderella,’ which was directed by diverse helmer Kenneth Branagh and is set to be released in theaters on Friday, provides gripping portrayals of its iconic characters and stunning visuals, which proves that dreams do come true when you put captivating efforts into your goals.

‘Cinderella’ follows the 10-year-old title character (Eloise Webb) and her parents (Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin), who happily dote on their young daughter. But when Ella’s mother tragically falls on her deathbed, she offers her optimistic and kind-hearted daughter advice about how to approach life and other people: “Have courage, and be kind.” While Ella (Lily James steps into the role of the older protagonist) and her father then contend with their devastating loss over the next few years, he eventually decides it’s time for him to remarry. Trying to follow her mother’s guidance and support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new Stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera), into their home.

But when Ella’s merchant father unexpectedly dies while away on a business trip, her life and future falls to the mercy of her cruel new family. As the trio is jealous of Ella’s kind nature, undivided affection from her father before he passed away and her natural beauty, they force her to become their servant. They also spitefully rename her Cinderella, as she’s often covered in cinders and ash from continuously mending the fire. But despite the disrespect and cruelty inflicted upon her by her new family, Ella refuses to give into the despair bestowed upon those who mistreat her. Instead, she finds solace and comfort in her new room in the house’s attic, as well as with the house mice that keep her company.

While Ella’s determined to honor her mother’s dying request that she always be courageous and kind, she also finds comfort in riding her horse through her kingdom’s forests. Upon one of her journeys, she unexpectedly makes the acquaintance of the Prince (Richard Madden), who she doesn’t recognize. Content with the fact that he has finally found someone who treats him as an equal, he introduces himself as Kit, an apprentice who works at the palace. It later appears that Ella’s fortune may be reversed for good when Kit’s father, the King (Derek Jacobi), summons all maidens in the kingdom to attend a royal ball at the palace. Ella’s hopes of once again encountering the charming Kit are raised, but soon vanish when her Stepmother forbids her to attend the ball and callously destroys her dress, which belonged to her mother.

But Ella’s fortune suddenly improves when a kind woman (Helena Bonham Carter) reveals herself to be her fairy godmother. With her magic wand, Ella’s newfound savior changes her life forever by giving her a new dress, carriage and most importantly, the unwavering courage to attend the ball and find Kit. But the couple’s chance of never-ending love is thwarted when the calculating Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård) devises a plan with Ella’s Stepmother to stop their grand reunion, so that they won’t rule the kingdom together. But Ella and Kit’s luck soon changes when destiny intervenes, and she fits into the magical glass slipper she left behind at the ball, which he uses to search throughout the kingdom for the woman who left it behind.

Branagh rightfully cast the enthralling James, who first rose to fame on the acclaimed period drama, ‘Downton Abbey,’ to portray the inspiring and exhilarating title character in ‘Cinderella.’ The actress naturally brought Ella’s virtuous and honorable attitude to the family fantasy film, whether she was contending with her Stepmother and stepsisters’ demeaning orders or the Grand Duke’s plan to keep her away from the Prince. While fairytales are often thought of as the woman relying on the prince to give her life meaning and validation, James instead graciously infused the title protagonist of the new live action adaptation with the powerful endurance to find contentment with the way her life is with her Stepmother and stepsisters, instead of resenting them and relying on the Prince to save her.

The actress crafted a resilient and emotionally strong protagonist who cares more about protecting and cherishing her virtue than trying to secure her place in high society, which alluringly captured and maintained the Prince’s attention. James and Madden’s effortless chemistry of showcasing Ella and the Prince’s desire follow their own hearts and fulfill the humane and courageous destinies they so longed for intriguingly mixed the signature love story that makes Disney’s fairy tales famous with the powerful message of not allowing anyone to stand in the way of their dreams.

The captivating chronicle of Ella and the Prince’s unwavering struggles to not only have their ideas and goals taken seriously by the people in their lives, but also their determination to once again find one other after each of their encounters, was also entrancingly showcased in ‘Cinderella’s enchanting costumes. Created by costume designer Sandy Powell, who has previous experience in such historical films as ‘The Other Boleyn Girl,’ ‘Hugo,’ ‘The Young Victoria’ and ‘The Tempest,’ the clothing worn by the characters in ‘Cinderella’ enticingly emphasized the way they’re viewed in society, and their determination to move past those stereotypes.

From Ella’s humble pink dress that she sentimentally wore to feel connected to her mother as she set out to attend the ball, which her Stepmother happily tattered to continue to crush her spirit, to the elegant and classic blue ball gown that her fairy godmother gave her that stunningly showcased her natural beauty and spirit, Powell alluringly crafted stunning outfits to emphasize the protagonist’s compassionate and sympathetic personality. Contrastingly, Powell intriguingly outfitted Ella’s Stepmother and stepsisters in numerous haughty dresses that were decorated with clashing colors and imperious designs, which perfectly reflected their arrogant belief that they’re of better class and merit than the title character, and their inability to truly appreciate and accept her.

Branagh, who has previously won acclaim as a director with such diverse films as 2011’s comic book action adventure adaptation, ‘Thor,’ and 1996’s historical drama, ‘Hamlet,’ once again enthrallingly captured audiences’ attention with the latest enchanting adaptation of ‘Cinderella.’ The filmmaker smartly cast James as the film’s title protagonist, who effortlessly dispelled the common belief that women are just helpless romantics in fairytales; the actress alluringly mixed Ella’s admiration for the Prince with a virtuous strength and fearless determination to seek what she truly wants in life, and not let anyone else’s actions and beliefs hold her back. Combined with Powell’s expertise and creative costume designs that alluringly reflect the characters’ diverse behaviors and personalities, ‘Cinderella’ is a smart and noteworthy exploration into what it truly means to be courageous and kind to others as you strive to fulfill your own destiny.

Technical: A-

Acting: B+

Story: B

Overall: B+

Written by: Karen Benardello

Cinderella Movie Review

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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