Art & Culture

My idea of a fairy story is something dark, twisted and complex; Disney's idea of a fairy story involves princes(ses), true love, and a few temporary obstacles which are easily overcome. Oh yes, and some cute animals. And judging by the fact that Kenneth Branagh directed this sentimental piece of goo, he presumably shares the Disney view.

If we were to take the anarcho-syndicalist critical view as so eloquently expressed in Monty Python & The Holy Grail, then this is a promotional film designed to prop up the patriarchal capitalist system in which monarchy is the pinnacle of achievement, women's only function is to find herself a richer and posher husband, and single mothers are demonised for protecting their children's interests.

Which is a not inaccurate description of this cloying story. Ella (Lily James) is the much-loved offspring of a mother and father who live in a perpetual haze of privilege and self-esteem. The mother dies first, of a mysterious illness that involves collapsing for no good reason. Some years later, father (Ben Chaplin) brings home a new wife (Cate Blanchett) and two obnoxious and spoiled daughters. His lapse in taste is unexplained, but when he too falls victim to the dreaded need-him-dead-itis, Ella is left to the far from tender mercies of the thee women, and in due course becomes Cinderella.

One of the most annoying things about her character is the way she puts up with the unforgivably cruel treatment, based on her mother's instructions to be kind and courageous. But it ends up with her being refused permission to go to the ball at the palace (home of the patriarchal monarchic oppressors), where she thinks she might meet Kit (Richard Madden), little realising that he is the prince (yes, she is that stupid). Fortunately fairy godmother Helena Bonham Carter is available to perform some magical transformations, and before you can say 'what happened to the pumpkin?", she's dancing around the ballroom with the besotted heir to the throne.

You know the story all too well, and little deviates from the animated Disney version from 1950, which in turn ticks all the same boxes as the Charles Perrault story from 1697. What we do miss, though, is the vengeful ending as described by the Brothers Grimm, who could always be relied on to come up with something nasty – in this story, the fact that the ugly sisters mutilate their feet to get the glass slipper to fit, and are punished by having their eyes pecked out. Obviously that sort of thing could never be allowed in a Disney film. The nearest thing we get to darkness is Cate Blanchett who is by some way the best thing in the movie, and lets us feel both the cruelty of the stepmother, but also her deeper motives.

Clearly this is not a film aimed at someone of my age, gender and socio-political persuasion, but even so, it seems to me to be self-indulgent and sentimental. It looks ravishing and has a terrific supporting cast; but it's not going to lead to the greater happiness of any girls or young women who still fondly believe that some day their prince will come.


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