“As pure of heart as its heroine, Cinderella floats across the screen like a gossamer confection, full of elegant beauty and quiet grace. This poetically imagined storybook fable is embraced in toto by director Kenneth Branagh.

"The film stars Lily James ("Downton Abbey") as Cinderella and Richard Madden ("Game of Thrones") as the charming Prince. They make a magnetic couple you root for even knowing the happily ever after is preordained. Branagh, with Oscar nominations for his acumen both in front of and behind the camera, confines himself to the director's chair, and you sense that singular focus; nothing feels an afterthought. Cate Blanchett is wonderfully wicked as the evil Stepmother — though more turned dark by bitterness and bad breaks than cruel intentions. With a little assist from her nettlesome daughters, she stirs up the requisite turbulence.

"The film opens in the days before Cinderella, or Ella as she's called, is orphaned. The death of her mother and, some years later, her father, bring a twinge of sadness. Otherwise, rarely is there even a cloud in the blue skies above her. And when a major storm does threaten, her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) is there to intervene.

"Though the film is live action, there is a good deal of CGI magic. The morphing of a pumpkin into a carriage, the various creatures into horses and coachmen, and a certain sparkling glass slipper are visually sumptuous. The production design is lush and rega. The lovely costume creations range from the over-the-top crinoline pomp, to the flowing softness of Ella's everyday rags and her ball gowns.

"A rich array of ancillary characters populate the film and inject whimsy and energy, along with even more heart. There are no big guffaws in the film, but there is a sense of humor throughout.

"Whether barefoot, sweeping up cinders or in towering glass slippers, Lily James never stumbles. James makes Ella seem as if the sweet and spirited young maiden is infused with an inner glow. It never feels a fraud and makes Madden's playing of hopelessly devoted believable.

"Branagh is the wizard in charge of all this magic, and he uses his wand judiciously, knowing when to effect the dramatic crescendos and when to let his players play. It is to the director's credit that he takes a tale in which there are no surprises and finds a way to let innocence, goodness and a storybook romance actually carry the day." - Betsy Sharkey, LA Times


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