First thing I have to comment on, of course, is the casting. Lily James is the perfect Cinderella - I've been racking my brains and genuinely can't think of anyone else who could possibly have played her. Richard Madden I initially thought an odd choice to play the Prince, but I was pleasantly surprised and found that he and Lily made an adorable couple with palpable chemistry. Helena Bonham Carter was an obvious choice for the Fairy Godmother, but this is no criticism as she was fabulous as always. Cate Blanchett definitely deserves a mention for her brilliant portrayal as the wicked stepmother, and it was lovely to see Lily's Downton co-star Sophie McShera give a turn as one of the ugly sisters. There were a few other familiar faces that cropped up unexpectedly - I won't name names in case you haven't seen it - but altogether I'd say that the casting was pretty much spot on.
I can't write a review without mentioning the dress. For those who are interested there's an article over on the Daily Mail website about how it was made, and more importantly how Cinderella's waist was NOT photoshopped - the skirts are just so big that it looks that way! It's absolutely stunning, the ultimate princess dress - but it must have weighed a tonne!
Another thing I liked about this film is the way they dealt with the animals. The mice, geese and lizards didn't speak - aside from when they were human of course - but Cinderella spoke to them the way we - or at least I - speak to my pets. It was really cleverly done and very cute. Although clearly still a fairytale, this version seems more realistic somehow; Cinderella meets 'Kit' Charming before the ball so it isn't entirely love at first sight, and Cinders herself is less a damsel in distress and more a strong moral heroine. The reason she stays with her stepmother is because she loathes to leave the house that her parents loved, not because she isn't allowed to leave. Lady Tremaine herself is a more ambiguous character too, she is desperate for money and jealous of Ella's beauty and kindness - hence her 'wicked' actions. If I had any criticism it would only be that the film's central message 'have courage and be kind' was pushed a little too much for my liking, but then of course I'm not the target audience and I'm sure many parents will be hoping that their little princesses take heed of the moral.
If you're expecting a frame for frame real-life copy of the original cartoon then you'll be disappointed, especially as it isn't a musical. However the film's soundtrack does feature Lily James singing 'A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes' and Helena Bonham Carter's version of 'Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo' which made for a lovely surprise when I looked it up on Spotify. The rest of the soundtrack is beautiful too - music isn't always the first thing you notice when watching a film but a few scores, particularly when Cinderella first enters the ballroom, are truly enchanting and really add to the fairytale atmosphere of the film. There's been a tendency to explore the darker side of fairytales in film recently - just look at Maleficent and Into the Woods - but this one stays on the lighter side of things, which to me is a welcome relief. It's not entirely sugar coated -the death of both of Cinderella's parents and her subsequent grief are given a lot more attention than in the cartoon - but it won't give you nightmares either. To me it's balanced just right.
5/5 stars: Visually stunning and true to the spirit of the original, Cinderella is an enchanting film for all the family. I'll be watching this instead of the cartoon from now on.
And if you needed any more convincing to go and see this film don't forget there's also the brilliant new short Frozen Fever to enjoy before the main event! I had completely forgotten about it until it started and it made my day!