I purchased the DVD of this latest version of Cinderella when it released 10 days ago. My little granddaughter Aubrey and I were going to have tea and watch it together. The day I picked her up from school, the gorgeous weather lured us outside and we ended up at a park, instead. After I arrived home late this evening, after a full day, I debated on what part of my journey to blog about. All afternoon, I had been thinking about this movie. For reasons unknown, it was calling to me. With apologies to Aubrey, I watched it this evening, and loved it.
Cinderella stars Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgard, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell. This Disney film was directed by Kenneth Branagh. It is rated PG for mild adult themes and has a run time of 1 hour and 45 minutes.
This fairy tale was my favorite, when I was a little girl. I grew up with two versions of the classic story: Disney’s 1950 animated cartoon and the 1965 musical from Rodgers and Hammerstein, which appeared annually on TV for many years. Of the two, I was more drawn to the Rodgers and Hammerstein live action, partly because of the song, “In My Own Little Corner”. I identified with the main character, not because of my circumstances…I was not orphaned, had a kind stepmother, no stepsisters, and definitely, no singing mice or birds that helped me to clean. I thought our names were similar…Cindy….Cinderella…and I liked her way of perceiving life. I liked her imagination, her willingness to believe in magic, her perpetual hope.
I’ve seen many variations of the Cinderella story, and valued aspects of them all. Ever After with Drew Barrymore was particularly good. After enjoying Disney’s live action version of Sleeping Beauty, called Maleficent, I looked forward to this re-telling of Ella, the girl with a good and kind heart who becomes a servant girl to her stepmother and stepsisters after her father dies.
And this was a beautifully done movie. The story opens with a voice over by the fairy godmother, (Carter) saying that Ella (James) “…saw the world not only as it was, but as perhaps it could be, with just a little bit of magic.” I was captivated immediately. This version offered a glimpse into Ella’s early childhood, while her mother (Atwell) still lived. Much of her attitude and her enchanted views of the world and life came from Cinderella’s beautiful mother. She gave her young daughter a sentence to live by, “Have courage, and be kind” and those words shaped the rest of her life as she often whispered them to herself. It was a very touching scene as the little girl’s mother told her she must go soon and asked for forgiveness, which Ella immediately gave.
When Ella’s lonely father (Chaplin) married again, the peace and joy she had known her entire life was invaded. Cate Blanchett played the role of the stepmother well, bringing a certain beauty and grace to the character, with a hard edge of grief and desperate need. “It was said of her that she too had known grief, but she wore it wonderfully well.” I could find sympathy for this woman, who told her story to Ella, sharing that she married the first time for love, and lost that love to death. She married the second time for her daughters’ securities, and lost that as well. The stepsisters Anastasia (Grainger) and Drisella (McShera) were not ugly to behold. It was their souls that were broken and they became seeking, grasping women, very jealous of the radiance that Ella exuded. They called her Cinderella to hurt her, and their words carried power and began to change Ella’s perceptions of herself.
The rest of the cast was rounded out with a very handsome young prince (Madden) who was charming indeed, especially when his emotions were so evident in his eyes. His father the king was strikingly portrayed by Derek Jacobi, a wonderful classical actor, and Skarsgard made a rather shady Grand Duke, whose actions contradicted his words. The captain of the guard was delightfully fleshed out by Nonso Anozie. Another very touching scene, for me, which mirrored Ella’s loss of her mother, was when the king lay dying and his grown son curled up against him,as he sobbed, his head on his chest, much as a small child would do.
I was not expecting talking mice but the mice were present, albeit silent, significant characters in this version as well. The animals, Ella humming snatches of tunes from the animated film, the bumbling fairy godmother and the words “bibbidi bobbibi boo” brought nostalgic familiarity, as did two songs from the original movie, performed during the credits.
The strength of this movie lay in the quotes that bookended the action. Have courage, and be kind. And, as Ella goes to meet the prince, to try on the glass slipper left behind at the end of the ball, words that struck my heart: “Would who she was, who she really was, be enough? There was no magic to help her this time. This is perhaps the greatest risk that any of us will take, to be seen as we truly are.” What amazing words. I replayed that scene several times, it was so powerful, so poignant. To be seen for who I truly am…is that enough? Am I enough? Hasn’t that always been my question as well? Ultimately, I have discovered that only I can answer those questions.
Ella faced the prince, before trying on the shoe, and makes no apology for who she is. She asked, bluntly, “Will you accept me as I am?” Isn’t that the question we all ask, with or without words? It is my question. He answered in kind, “Yes. Will you accept me as I am?” Again, I have answered my own question. Will I accept myself as I am? Yes. Live as the person that I am? In process. In one of the final scenes, as Ella leaves on the prince’s arm, she faced her stepmother and said, simply, “I forgive you.” Another mirroring of Ella’s final moments with her mother.
I look forward to watching this movie again, with Aubrey. Now that I have seen it, and it is even now playing again as I type, I will watch Aubrey’s little face, interpret the emotions that flicker across her face and flare up in her blue eyes. I can’t wait to tell her, “Who you really are, is enough.” And for all of my grandchildren, I have new words to share, “Have courage, and be kind.” They are all enough. They are all accepted, as they are.