Cinderella

Director: Kenneth Branagh (2015)

There are no surprises in this sweet, stately and straight-forward fairytale which Disney intends to be universally accepted the definitive version.

A non-revisionist extension of the Disney brand, it begins with once upon a time and ends happily ever after.

Unlike Disney’s earlier folklore forage this year Into The Woods or last year’s Maleficent which added a different perspective to European fairytales, Cinderella adds nothing new. Renaming Prince Charming as Kit is as far as reinvention goes.

Instead it’s determinedly old-fashioned, resolutely traditional telling of the tale; majestic, confident, warm and enchanting. At it’s centre is a message of how important it is to have courage and be kind.

With the magical assistance of her fairy godmother, the put-upon Cinderella is saved from an unjust life of drudgery by her handsome Prince Charming.

From cast to costumes to carriages, it is astonishingly beautiful, taking sumptuous pleasure in the smallest detail and director Brannagh keeps the pace steady enough to enjoy them.

Following the death of her wealthy father, Cinderella (Lily James) is left at the mercy of her icy stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and spoilt step-sisters Anastasia and Drizella (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera).

Tremaine is a black-hearted widow who is deeply disappointed with life, as wasp-tongued as Cinders is wasp-waisted,

Our heroine is forced to sleep in attic and performs all the household chores. Her only friends are four animated cute and charming mice.

While out riding she meets the dashing Prince Kit (Richard Madden) and both pretend to be other than they are. Both are smitten but called away to their duties.

The dying King (Derek Jacobi) orders Kit to find a wife to provide an heir and protect the future of the Kingdom. So Kit holds a fabulous ball and demands attendance of all the maidens in the land, noble or common.

Barred from attending by her step-mother, Cinder’s fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) appears.

She turns a pumpkin into a carriage, mice into horses and lizards into footmen. Cinders dons a pair of glass slippers and is off to the ball – but of course only until midnight when the magic will wear off.

Meeting each other on the dance floor, Kit and Cinderella are a handsome pair, not wildly exciting but pleasant with graceful dance moves – expect copycat routines on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing.

Cinderella’s race to return home is the most fun part of the film. It’s an exciting, energetic and humorous race against time.

Bonham Carter has fun as the fairy godmother and Jacobi adds acting gravitas as the King.

Rob Brydon appears briefly and manages to be funny and outstay his welcome, neatly encapsulating his entire career in a cameo.

Production Designer Dante Ferretti provides an astonishing wealth of detail amid glorious sets, extravagant furnishings giving texture to the fairytale world.

Costume Designer Sandy Powell dresses the cast in fabulous clothes and uniforms. Their heightened colours offer a promise of magic.

With many gasps, groans, giggles and growls padding out the vocal performances, the dialogue is far less imaginative than the design. It’s regularly abandoned in favour of the music of composer Patrick Boyle.

While his orchestral score swells and falls like Cinderella’s corseted bosom, Branagh delivers a series of sweeping camera moves that reveal yet more opulent design.

Dubbing for international markets seem to at the forefront of the film’s construction which opens and begins with a voice over.

The actors finish their lines with open mouths and the editing and direction provide an unusual amount of speaking off-camera. It’s a wonder they didn’t go full Leone and put cigars in everyones mouths to disguise the lip movement.

Disney of course have their own 1950 animated version which the script acknowledges with a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo as the Fairy Godmother casts her spells.

But this is not just a movie, it’s an irresistible cavalry charge of cultural colonisation. The House of Mouse have mobilised their creative heavy armaments to annex the world of Cinderella and indisputably incorporate it as part of the Disney Empire. Having claimed forever the rich, fertile and lucrative source material, they’ll sweat the asset in due course.

It’s no surprise Cinderella’s mice play a pivotal role in the finale.

Preceded by a short featuring the characters from Frozen which is either utterly amazing or annoyingly entertaining depending on your view of that massively successful film.

The end of Cinderella shows the newly wed royal couple being presented on a snowy balcony to an adoring public with snow-clad mountains in the background.

Unless I’ve missed a memo and this is old news, it seems as if Disney are tying the two films together in a continuous universe, not unlike Disney’s rmega-franchises; Marvel and Star Wars, with Kit and Cinderella the parents of Elsa and Anna.

This lends Frozen some of Cinderella’s folklore resonance and makes the more staid Cinderella more palatable to the little ones.

As strong and monumental as this film is, even in playful homage it’s always dangerous to reference your cinematic betters – as Cinderella does with a throwaway ‘As you wish.’

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Director: Kenneth Branagh (2014)

This insipid reboot of Tom Clancy’s CIA agent Jack Ryan is the character’s fifth big screen outing – and the least entertaining.

It squanders its acting talent, glossy design and glamorous locations on a dated plot, weak script and limp action sequences.

Lacking the self-knowing ridiculousness that makes the Mission Impossible films so much fun, it resorts to stealing its best (only?) joke from Indiana Jones and the finale of a Batman movie.

Chris Pine plays Ryan, a US marine turned top analyst. He’s commissioned by a CIA division so secret the movie can’t even be bothered to invent a name for it.

Pine has one excellent scene as a boorish drunk but isn’t allowed the swagger that made his Captain Kirk so entertaining. Kenneth Branagh plays the menacing Russian agent Viktor Cherevin and smuggles in some welcome acting subtlety.

Ryan is sent undercover to Moscow where he forgets his training at the first opportunity and is left huddling at night on the cold streets. Luckily, incompetent CIA chief Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) – his first kill was an innocent bystander – rocks up with a van full of surveillance gear to help out.

Then Ryan’s civilian fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) jets in to check on his suspected infidelity and immediately mucks in with the assignment.

She’s a natural at the espionage game and even helps out Ryan with some analysis – his best talent, don’t forget – and loyally doesn’t take any credit. Clearly the CIA have employed the wrong man, er, woman.

Mind you, the Russians are no better. Their not-so-dastardly two-pronged plot involves creating a huge economic depression – as if anyone would notice these days – and blowing up some Wall Street banks, which may not cause the outrage among the western world they anticipate.

☆☆☆