So we’ve had this film in our pockets for an Impolite Conversation since we debuted the series with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice way back in March 2016. Every time Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella came up as a possibility there was inevitably something else newly arrived in theaters or another movie popped up that diverted our attention.
But the time has come. We’re doubling down on Disney fairy tales. The live action Beauty and the Beast premieres next month (approximately just in time for our one year Impolite anniversary of writing these) and we could not pass up the opportunity to do these two films in (relatively) quick succession.
Because MAN DO WE HAVE SOME OPINIONS. And, per usual, we ain’t going to be fucking polite about them.
So let’s get started!
The Pageantry Makes Cole Almost Not Totally Hate Kenneth Branagh
Clarice: He definitely has an eye for fantastic/dramatic visuals. His concept of film staging skews towards the grandiose in a way that is perfect for a live action fairy-tale.
Cole: It is! From the charming design of Cinderella’s house to the opulence and ornamentation of the royal palace, the production design is on point for this film.
Clarice: Indeed. We oohed and swooned multiple times if I recall. … Praising Ken-Bran is rough for you right now, isn’t it?
Clarice: He has style — and that is important in a film like this. Even the supremely dumbass ‘along the cliff’ carriage chase has that rather stunning overhead visual moment at its beginning as the prince and his contingent ride out after her en masse.
Cole: And as gorgeous as so many of the visuals are I think the costuming is particularly strong and dramatic.
Clarice: We’re talking Cate Blanchett’s wardrobe specifically, yes?
Cole: Hell yes. Especially the first moment she appears and you get that dramatic profile with the hat and what becomes her signature style of dress with the bold, jewel tones. She’s like no one else in a film of pastels and pale nature colors.
Clarice: Or even the garish colors of her daughters (i.e. the stepsisters.)
Cole: Yes! Exactly. Before she even says a word the Stepmother’s costume is making her stand out from everyone else and defining her character in a very clear and concise way. And I think we have to mention Cinderella’s ballgown, yes?
Clarice: That damn blue dress is as striking, lovely and memorable as it needs to be. The way it swishes and swirls when they are dancing is unquestionably beautiful. It is THE quintessential Disney Fairy Tale come alive.
*Hanna appears from the ether, mumbles something about choreography, and twitches at the mixed dance styles that make no sense before trotting back to the ether*
Cole: *Unfazed* That is absolutely accurate. On a visual level, the film achieves the quintessential Disney Fairy Tale, as you put it, across the board. So bravo, Ken-Bran. You (or your production team really…) did that right!
Clarice: Aaannd there it is.
Cinderella is a Fucking Crazy Person Without a Drip of Agency
Clarice: Hey Cole, do you know what a maybe slightly mild flaw with a Cinderella movie might be?
Cole: I maaaaay have a slight idea…
Clarice: WHEN YOU DESPISE CINDERELLA.
Cole: HOLY SHIT SHE’S THE ABSOLUTE WORST.
*Clarice takes deep breath*
Cole: Do I sense an imminent rant?
Clarice: Beyond the fact that she is allowed zero agency whatsoever, she sounds like AN ACTUAL CRAZY PERSON. She sounds flat out crazy ALL THE TIME. Even from the beginning! No one is that smiley and happy all the time. And it’s not just her! Her mother (RIP Hayley Atwell) and father too! All smiley and happy and laughing and idyllic and floral-printed… (because ya know, good people don’t wear dark colors, Cole.) Oh, and “Bring me back the first branch your shoulder touches”??? SERIOUSLY??? I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU AS A HUMAN WOMAN! What’s wrong with asking for a small present from another country your father is visiting?? NOTHING! NOTHING IS WRONG WITH THAT! It’s not as though you’re obnoxiously demanding it! It’s FINE. Like not even something like a book?? AND WHY ARE YOU WINKING AT MICE???
Cole: …rant over?
Clarice: Momentarily, yes.
Cole: Okay, cool. And you actually brought up a lot of really good points. I think, in particular, your point about Cinderella have absolutely no agency WHATSOEVER throughout the film. I mean, when the animated film from 19-fucking-50 gives the character more personal agency then there’s a major problem. For instance: getting moved up to the attic from her room.
Clarice: “How very pleasant.” What the fuck??? You basically got evicted from your room because you’re such a dumbass pushover and this is a drafty dingy attic! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU??? YOU ARE ALLOWED TO BE ANGRY, YA KNOW!
Cole: Yes! She is allowed to be angry. However, this film seems to equate kindness with the utter absence of a spine. I again reference the attic, but this time when she has been FUCKING IMPRISONED THERE BY HER STEPMOTHER.
Clarice: “It would be a beautiful memory.” WHAT??? Being kind doesn’t mean you have to be a fucking doormat to people treating you terribly all the time. I get that it’s what your dying mother told you to be like, but–
Cole: I DON’T THINK THAT’S WHAT HALEY ATWELL MEANT
Clarice: — the argument “it’s what her dying mother advised her” turns into being really fucking sad if interrogated too closely as an excuse. Because then WOW her dying mother’s advice has super fucked up her sense of emotional well-being / self-care. Actually trying to get out of abusive circumstances does not undercut anything about a sweet-nature or kindness.
Cole: She just contentedly sits in the attic. The fucking mice get her out. She doesn’t even open the fucking window to shout for help or anything.
Clarice: She couldn’t even manage to open up the window while singing for her own sake. Really, movie?? She couldn’t have even just been singing with the window already open? That’s not agency either, but at least it’s not as bad as “I’m such an unmotivated damp rag that mice have to take charge to get my ass out of this shitty situation.”
Cole: In the animated film she asks the mice to get the fucking key, unlocks the door and runs down the fucking stairs shouting for the Grand Duke to wait. She wants out of that damn attic and gets out and runs downstairs to prove she’s the mysterious lady from the ball and get her damned Prince Charming. The film ALMOST hits one moment that could have helped alleviate a lot of these issues.
Clarice: Yes. The night of the ball when her dress is ripped up and she runs out crying and says, “I’m having trouble having courage.” Fair enough; I don’t blame you. But change/alter that moment to a variation on (at least including) “I’m having trouble being kind.” IMMEDIATELY many (though not all) issues kinda fix! At least that one meager line acknowledges she has anger and is at least actively striving to be kind in spite of it (even though it’s still kind of fucked up to me.)
Cole: It’s the one moment where they nearly hit upon something interesting or dynamic with her as a character. Otherwise she’s either annoyingly bland or simply infuriating. And to have that be the cast with the film’s eponymous character? Yeah. Not good.
Clarice: Even by the end… it’s “I forgive you.” Really?? Fine, movie, she doesn’t need to be outright furious here. I don’t need that. She doesn’t want to hold on to toxic anger. I get it; fine. But a sudden “I forgive you”?? I hate that. She couldn’t just leave without looking back? She couldn’t say, with no malice, “Goodbye”?? No. Just “I forgive you.” Ugh. I miss Ever After and its “After this moment, I will no longer think of you.” That’s a good balance to me. A natural one. Not this bullshit implied retrograde message that feeling anger is something good and gentle women don’t do… even in the face of longterm abuse. Fuck that message. She owes forgiveness to no one.
They Almost Make the Stepmother the Most Interesting Part of the Film
Clarice: And on the flipside of my Cinderella distaste… I know I’m a terrible person because I am way too on board with Cate Blanchett in this movie. I think I like The Stepmother too much in this movie, Cole.
Cole: She gets the best hook of any character in the film with the line of narration “She too had known grief, but she wore it wonderfully well.” She is set up to be the most interesting person in the story. The most complex. And the film ALMOST nails it and brings that around at the end. But then, surprise surprise, it manages to absolutely bungle it.
Clarice: I think toeing the line with The Stepmother is often rough in these — either she’s a flawed/damaged and understandable sort of evil… Or she’s a villainess cartoon. Teetering between the two just doesn’t work… which is of course exactly what this film does. Especially in that final attic moment. She lurches from a sympathetic snapshot of a genuinely damaged woman… to cartoonishly hissing that the reason she hates Cinderella is because she is young and innocent. Seriously? Boo.
Cole: This is true. It’s a wonderful moment where you actually see the breaking and the grieving that lead to her coldness and hardness. Blanchett does a fantastic job with her monologue. It’s one of the best moments in the film. And then they undercut it moments later when Cinderella asks why she’s so cruel (or something along those lines) and the Stepmother responds with the above. I believe we both shouted something along the lines of “Aaaaaand you ruined it!” at the television…
Clarice: And of course you also have CATE BLANCHETT IN FABULOUS CLOTHES doing all of this. That in and of itself puts me on her side for purely superficial reasons. I need a loop of her one cackling laugh.
Cole: She’s fantastic. And Blanchett in the role is a big part of why she’s one of the most interesting parts. She’s out-acting every other person in the film. I just wish that Ken-Bran didn’t try and have it both ways.
Clarice: Yeah. Cartoonish fairy-tale visuals are great. Cartoonish fairy-tale personalities? Especially for women? Less so.
Cole: I AM SO SORRY HAYLEY ATWELL. YOU DESERVE BETTER THAN THIS.
Clarice: Alas, tragically killed by Plot.
Cole: It came for Derek Jacobi too!
Clarice: More proof of Cinderella’s crazy? Apologizing to the stag, and trying to talk them out of hunting it — as if psuedo-historical pseudo-European eating animals is amoral. WHAT DO YOU EAT IN THIS KINGDOM THEN?? *grumbles* Fairy tale vegans, apparently…
Cole: The. Fucking. Ridiculous. Stupid. Stag.
Cole: Helena Bonham-Carter is clearly drunk as the Fairy Godmother and it is wondrous.
Clarice: I like to think she had a flask hidden beneath her twinkle-light dress.
Cole: Yes! And that her condition to play the part for Ken-Bran was that she could be drunk while doing it.
Clarice: I wish I could see that clause of her contract…
Cole: Love how they pretend that the dress she goes to the ball in is still remotely similar to her mother’s dress.
Clarice: Oh my god… The implication was that it’s supposed to be her mother’s dress, but tweaked, right? BUT IT’S NOWHERE CLOSE TO THE SAME DRESS! I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE POINT!
Cole: The Prince’s Gay Fencing Army!
Clarice: Ahahaha. To be fair, I’m guessing approximately 90% are gay. Most of the rest are bi… with only a couple rampant heteros… who are good naturedly mocked.
Clarice: The Prince’s Lonely Swing. 🙁
Clarice: I absolutely love imagining Richard Madden going out to his secret garden when he’s sad and swinging broodily.
Cole: On his swing that is conveniently designed to be big enough to allow for ladies in giant ball gowns.
Clarice: “I’m frightened, Mr. Lizard.” … I hate her.
Cole: She says she has “plenty of time” until midnight. Yeah…uuuuuuum…you’re in a carriage not a fucking sportscar. AND IT’S GOING TO TAKE YOU HALF AN HOUR TO GET UP THOSE STUPID STAIRS ALONE!
Clarice: Magic no-sweat dress! Magic no-sweat shoes!
Cole: I really want to sit little Kit down and remind him he’s a fucking prince or king (depending on which point in the movie) and therefore doesn’t have to strike dumbass deals with the fucking Grand Duke.
Clarice: YOU’RE THE FUCKING ROYALTY! YOU CAN GIVE ORDERS! YOU CAN MAKE HIM DO WHAT YOU WANT OR HE DIES!
Cole: We do not care for your stupid, glossy, idealized depiction of monarchy, movie!
And Now, the Best Part of the Movie: Richard Madden in Tight Pants
Derek Jacobi: “Make him look marriageable.”
Cole & Clarice: *rather drunkenly* Ummm…. Have you seen him??