Lily James's Cinderella is more of a doormat than my actual doormat

Kenneth Branagh's live-action remake of the Disney classic, while beautiful, is also dreary and insipid

28 March 2015

9:00 AM

28 March 2015

9:00 AM


U, Nationwide

Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is a Disney film based on a Disney film, so is double Disney, if you like. It is a live-action adaptation of the 1950 animated version, and an entirely faithful retelling. As such, it comes with no irony, no modern winks aimed at a modern audience and no smarty-pants updating of the smarty-pants kind. It is lush, with dazzling costumes by Sandy Powell, but without any reinvention whatsoever this is a film that, at some point, should have asked itself, ‘OK, I’m all dressed up, but do I actually have anywhere to go?’

It stars Lily James (from Downton, apparently) as our heroine, Ella. Ella had a childhood as golden as her hair. Ella, as we see, lived in a heavenly house with a mummy and a daddy who loved her very much. But then mummy goes and blows it all by dying. Her last words to her daughter are, ‘Have courage and be kind’, which is not what I would say to any child of mine. Probably, my last words would be, ‘Why didn’t you ever call?’ Her doting father then marries a widow (Cate Blanchett, who is wonderful, the best thing in this by far) without noticing she is a total bitch, and then he can’t notice she is a total bitch, as he dies too.

There is a lot of dying early on and also quite a lot later on, when you will feel you are dying, of boredom, of ennui and, possibly, the full weight of the patriarchy, pressing down hard on your chest.

The nasty step-sisters, as played by Sophie McShera (also from Downton, apparently) and Holliday Grainger (not from Downton, amazingly), are intended to provide the humour but as it is familiar panto slapstick it simply isn’t at all funny. I laughed much more at the prince (Richard Madden), who is just such a plank and exactly the sort of prince that Shrek sent up so brilliantly in its smarty-pants way. This prince’s only noteworthy feature is his britches, which are distractingly tight. Or, to put it another way, after having done some research, I can now tell you the male equivalent of ‘camel toe’ is ‘moose knuckle’. I am ill acquainted with the anatomy of the moose, but if its knuckles are as disproportionately bulging as what the prince has in his pants, I simply don’t understand how the moose gets around.

Ella has a miserable time of it because her wicked step-family employ her as a slave, cooking and cleaning and brushing the ashes from the fire, hence their nickname for her, Cinderella. They banish her to the attic and from sitting with them at meals. At no time does Cinderella remonstrate. Instead, she even does happy little dances up in that attic while talking to the four CGI mice who appear to have been around since her childhood — how old are these mice? — and reminding herself to be kind and courageous. She is even more of a doormat, I would say, than my actual doormat, which at least sends up a tuft to trip me up every now and then, and so exhibits some personality.

Meanwhile, the fairy godmother shtick is provided by Helena Bonham Carter. I am a fan of Helena Bonham Carter and, assuming Helena Bonham Carter would camp it up, Helena Bonham Carter-style, I was looking forward to her entrance enormously, but she is awarded very little screen time and is also bland. Do you remember Annette Crosbie’s fabulously bad-tempered fairy godmother in The Slipper and the Rose? That was a fairy godmother I could get on board with, but this one? Uninspired. Come the revolution, of course, the fairy godmother will wave her magic wand and Cinderella will find herself wearing a power suit and going on to achieve fulfilment as the CEO of a major company — Facebook maybe, or Apple — but here? We are simply meant to share her excitement over shoes and frocks. She doesn’t have the wit to clock the ‘moose knuckle’. I wanted to shake her and say, ‘Girl, that moose knuckle is wasted on you!’

The Cinderella story has been around since the 9th century so it must have something going for it. Who doesn’t like a triumphant underdog? But this double Disney version, while visually beautiful, is dreary and insipid. It is all dressed up, with absolutely nowhere to go.

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  • jPod

    You must have had one boring childhood…

  • Martin

    Just because you’re nice and good, doesn’t mean you don’t have a personality. And therefore, having a personality doesn’t mean you have to be sassy or a big brat.
    Relax. Can’t we have a heroine who doesn’t do heroin for once? It’s been a while since we’ve had a role model kids can really look up to.

    • Emma

      You think little girls should treat slaves as role models?

  • You are a fan of H. B. C.? Why? Because she is the only woman in the world whose face can be so white and ghastly while retaining voluminous hair that is still so brown? I don’t understand the appeal. As for the ‘moose knuckle’ — have you ever seen a moose? I have: 16 in one day (yes, it was exhausting, just me and my boyfriend in a canoe). When we finally got over our portaging and paddling fatigue, I never once said to him: ‘but my lord, you look so much like a moose!’.

  • By the way, what IS it with girls whose collar bones you can actually see? I was thin as thin could be when young (and I’m not that far from it now) — yet I always had a filled-in softness: you didn’t see my bones, even if a lover could feel them. Individual variation, obviously. But it strikes me as strange, as if the girl with the lovely face is trying to model for Gray’s Anatomy.

  • Jon

    Sad. One of the few movies in the past decade to take the moral responsibility of beauty seriously and it’s dismissed by a feminist with blinders on.

  • Paulina Castejon

    We loved it and will buy the DVD. Maybe you have never had to suffer with patience and keep your mouth shut, but I for one wish I were more like Cinderella and my daughter too…thankful, full of hope, able to find inner joy in bad situations that YOU have NO CONTROL over, (which is the moral) it inspired me to be more graceful and compassionate to my enemies as Christ instructs and gives the best example of. She is strong, feminine, full of grace and worthy of respect…more than our modern day Kardashians, Gagas, or take your pick…

  • James Masters

    Quite right. I think all stories from our history should be subject to vetting by a self-appointed committee of Guardian journos. They should all be banned unless they are rewritten in a PC/ feminist form which is approved by the committee (or, preferably, just banned full stop).

  • Bea

    I somewhat share the sentiments with this movie. I somewhat blame the fact that over the years we’ve seen quite a few Cinderella movies that gives us that spunky young woman who has been given a bad lot in life.

    Even though the movie was keeping with the Disney Cartoon and I could almost appreciate the lack of a heavily empowered spunky character for someone more demure my whole problem throughout the film was Cinderella herself. Perhaps a cartoon can get away with more than a live-action film but seeing Cinderella like that was just so nerve-wrecking. She was dull, painfully dull, and it felt as if she did not have a single independent thought throughout the film just mimicking the words of her parents. I actually felt that somehow the cartoon Cinderella had more emotions and personality than this one, hell the CGI mice showed more personality. In all of the other Cinderella movies you get the feeling that she stays because she has nowhere else to go, in this one she does but she chooses to stay because of what her parents told her.

    By the way was anyone else anticipating more of a fight between the mice and cat other than a silly but unfunny moment?

    The whole highlight of the movie to me was Lady Tremaine and her wardrobe.
    I like that they tried to explain why she was wicked which recycles the theme of doing for love over advantage, but that was instantly crushed when it was clear that even the writers couldn’t come up with a good reason for why she would treat Cinderella in that fashion and just left it hanging as if you’re suppose to piece it together. It just felt awkward as if they were trying to make her pitiable then dash that as if to go ‘Naw, don’t feel sorry for her, she’s wicked! She’s the exact opposite of Cindy!’

    Still the sets and costumes were beautiful. I might actually invest in the Cinderella nail polishes.

  • evad666

    Eu enters the Science Fiction sector at

  • detrop

    So two days ago I sat down to finally watch Cinderella, and see what all the fuss was about. As a disclaimer, the original Disney animated version has never been high on my list of “great movies” anyway. To a little girl who actively sought out girls who fought for their happiness, Cinderella was one of the more bland and boring ‘heroines’ and along with Sleeping Beauty, it was a “watch once and forge” kind of movie. I will also point out that while I appreciate what they *tried* to do in
    Maleficent, I don’t think it really succeeded. BUT AT LEAST IT TRIED.

    This remake’s heroine is not just *as* bland as her animated counterpart – she’s *more* bland. My god, there’s just nothing to grab on to at all. And the worst part was that the small bits they tried to change made it so much worse. For example, Cindy’s mom. “Be kind and have courage”. Well, let me tell you – I saw a lot of “lie
    down like a doormat”, but that is NOT the same thing as being “kind”. If it were, “nice guy” wouldn’t be a (justifiably) derogatory term. Nobody likes or respects someone who won’t stand up for themselves. Case in point, the prince falls for Cindy because she’s a babe… oh and because she told him to stop hunting. Sooo… that quick 30 second meeting apparently glossed over the whole “falling in love at first sight is a bad bad bad bad BAD idea” message that they JUST FINISHED giving us in Frozen (a much, MUCH better film for children, with enough entertainment for adults as well, and some absolutely fantastic messages about how to be nice AND still have a spine). Bullshit, but okay, fine, moving

    The change that bothered me most was Cindy’s excuse for staying. In the original, IIRC, there wasn’t really a reason made. It was understood that in those days she’d have had literally no place to go. That’s something one can discuss with one’s kids. “It’s much better these days because there are women’s shelters, or you could go to the police if someone is trying to make you work those kinds of hours while not even feeding or clothing you, let alone paying you a living wage or giving you habitable living quarters. Aren’t we lucky to live in a place where we have solutions to Cindy’s problem?” But in this movie they had a friend ask her
    why she didn’t leave. And did she say “because I’m afraid to” (which they could have later worked into “Cindy struggled with the ‘being brave bit’ but in the end she TOTALLY DID IT, GO CINDY!”)? No. Did she say “because I have nowhere else to go” (which they could have worked in with the friend as “I wish I could take you but we have no room and/or can’t afford it ourselves”)? No. No, their solution to “why can’t Cindy leave” is “my parents would want me to stay in this abusive situation.” Why would her parents want her to stay in that abusive situation? BECAUSE OF THE HOUSE. Holy sweet mother of pearl, I nearly had a fit when that line came out of her mouth. We just spent how long in the intro building
    up Cindy’s parents as loving and doting and wanting the best for her… I guess
    Cindy’s mom encouraging Cindy to keep believing in make-believe as a way to
    escape some of the harsh realities of life should have been a warning sign. I mean hell, I still like to play ‘make believe’ and I’m nearly 40, but if somebody tried to sign me up for indentured servitude, I’d walk. If somebody tore my dress off
    my body, I’d call the cops. And if somebody locked me up a goddamn attic, I’d climb down the goddamn walls or scream my head off the first time someone came near, not prance around the attic telling myself “well at least I had *one* happy day that one time I dared defy my captors that I can fantasize about forever and ever and ever or at least until I work myself into an early unmarked grave”, without ever getting the loud screaming hint of SO MAYBE YOU SHOULD TRY DEFYING AGAIN coming from my subconscious.

    The movie was beautiful, yes. It was colorful and well dressed (and I mean that in terms of both costumes and sets) and it was a pleasure to look at. But the dialogue and acting going on in the meantime were nothing but a distraction.
    The one exception to that is one I have noted that pretty much everyone who disliked the movie likes – Cate Blanchett. I don’t know if she’s a stupendous as I think she is, or if there was so little competition that it’s just super easy to stand out. But I really did enjoy every time she was on screen, both for her costumes *and* her acting. Beautiful.

    Unfortunately, that’s all I got out of the movie. The rest was watching Cinderella get pushed around by the world at large. Her mother tells her what to do, she does it without question. Her dad tells her to try and get along with her abusive stepmother and sisters, she does. Heck, even the prince demands her presence after she disappears from the ball. Eventually pure dumb luck sends her falling into the arms of a prince she’s spoken to for maybe a couple hours
    before deciding to marry, and we’re back where we started – a movie filmed in
    2015 that tells little girls “let people be as mean as they like to you, including physical, emotional, verbal and mental abuse, and if you’re GOOD ENOUGH, you totally get a prince at the end.” Um… wow.

    And you know what I find the most interesting about this? I sought out the negative reviews to see what other people thought (and was glad to see other people picking up on the things that had bothered me as well). There are very few of them, in contrast to the positives. AND YET on every single negative review that allows comments, I’ve seen people who loved the movie taking the time and effort to leave insulting and abusive comments. The funniest ones are the ones that insult and then talk about what a “good role model” Cindy is. Really? Cause “be nice” was her BIG THING. Two words. And from what I understand from those comments, a nice, easy, straightforward message. And yet I can’t seem to find ANY comments disagreeing with the negative reviewers who manage to
    remember that bit. Mostly they seem to take the tone of the ugly stepsisters.
    Which IMO just goes to prove that this movie is completely devoid of any
    valuable lesson for anybody.