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Princess in Waiting

Disney's live-action 'Cinderella' is a gleaming and intelligent retelling

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RAGS TO RICHES Lily James is well cast in the Kenneth Branagh's live-action 'Cinderella.'
  • RAGS TO RICHES Lily James is well cast in the Kenneth Branagh's live-action 'Cinderella.'

Kenneth Branagh's version of Cinderella has a magnificent palace in it, like a Beaux Arts casino on the edge of an Alaskan fjord. Production designer Dante Ferretti and costumer Sandy Powell fill it up at great expense.

This fantasyland is created after the invention of aniline dyes; as garish as they are cruel, the stepsisters wear all the newly created hues at once. By contrast, the kind yet interesting prince, known as "Kit" (Richard Madden) holds court in a series of elegant Hussar uniforms. If you positively have to wear a military uniform, dress as light cavalry.

Lily James (Downton Abbey) as Cinderella was cast not because she's this week's most beautiful girl, but because she's an actress able to convey an honest heart. Her endurance really changes the story, even if a bit of magic helps—the temporary enchantment melts delightfully during a chase, with the horses growing vast mouse ears and the lizard footmen and the goose coachman metamorphosing in front of us.

Wicked stepmom Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), wrapped in poison-green gowns, makes this poor orphan Ella sleep in a rickety attic as tall as the library in The Name of the Rose. Though screenwriter Chris Weitz devises an intelligent reason why Ella would hide from her prince, the sturdy writing goes too far and overexplains. After all, Blanchett doesn't need dialogue to explain why she's bad; she's Cate Blanchett—she can show us the hurt on the far side of her wrath without any words.

'Cinderella' is playing in wide release.

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