I recently saw the live action version of the classic fairy tale Cinderella, now in theaters. And for me, watching the film resulted in conflicting feelings – I felt swept away by the movie’s beauty and charisma but I also felt annoyed at times and wanted to yell things at the screen.
Let’s start with why it was fun to watch.
The movie, which has been in theaters for awhile now, stars the incredibly lovely Lily James. Many Downton Abbey fans dislike James because apparently her character on that show is annoying. But I don’t watch Abbey so I went in with a blank Lily-James slate. And I was smitten. She made for a drop-dead gorgeous Cinderella – sweet, lovely, and acted the part perfectly. It was heart-warming fun watching this stunning creature (“Ella”) fall in love with the Prince, played by the equally charming and beautiful Richard Madden. However, he didn’t look nearly as hot as he did in Game of Thrones, mostly due to the fact that his awesome curls were slicked back into a weird Princely coif.
One of my favorite aspects of watching Cinderella was how much I enjoyed the costumes. They were incredible, which added immensely to the pleasure of watching the movie, most notably with the character of the wicked stepmother. In the role, Cate Blanchett looked divine, dressed to the nines in luxe looks brimming with rich colors and fabrics. She also wore amazing accessories. The costume designs were done by three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell.
The dress Ms. James wears to the ball was just perfect in every way. Powell told Us Weekly, “I wasn’t given any instruction by Disney on whether or not I should l use it, pay homage to it, or discard it,” referring to the blue dress from the cartoon version. “I knew we were making a modern-day version—a new version, a live-action version—so I decided to ignore it.” After attempting to mentally concoct a pink, white, and yellow version of the statement-making dress, Powell couldn’t help but land back on the cartoon’s signature cerulean hue, with additional beautiful translucent fabric and butterfly details.
Also beautiful? The wedding gown worn at the end.
And Lily’s hair in the movie – also gorgeous. Her long golden curls were tied back and braided in the prettiest, most beautiful ways. I kept thinking how all her hairstyles looked like gorgeous bridal styles, even in her enslaved-housekeeper looks. Her dreadlocks- type curls during those scenes look so cool and pretty!
The story’s magical elements and beautiful scenery added to the movie’s eye candy. The fairy godmother scenes, starring the always-good Helena Bonham Carter, offered CGI effects that would impress even the harder-to-please viewers. Mice turning into horses, a pumpkin into a carriage, and a lizard and a goose turning into a footman and a coachman? All these moments were portrayed perfectly.
So let me explain what made Cinderella frustrating to watch. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had to learn to assert myself as a strong female through the years. If you think of the story of Cinderella, it’s about a sweetheart of a young woman who is made to act as a slave for her stepmother and sisters. Watching someone get emotionally and verbally abused and treated so cruelly is not easy to watch. The cartoon version of the fairy tale softens these blows and makes you forget what’s actually going on. Seeing the story in live action changes that, and it’s a story that doesn’t translate into modern times, where girls are taught to stand up for themselves and take-no-crap-from-anybody from the time they learn to communicate.
My friend and I sat in the theater watching the beautiful, kind woman get treated like dogshit from the people around her, and she never tries to stand up for herself. Not once. And it was annoying. “Get a lawyer!” my friend said. “Tell them to shove it,” I said to the screen. And she never does. Even near the end, when the Prince is touring the countryside looking for her, Ella gets locked in the attic by her stepmother. Instead of screaming and pounding on the door, Ella says it’s okay because she’s with her fiends, the mice, and she starts dancing and playing. Um, isn’t the guy you like trying to find you? Huh?! Yeah, you’re right Ella. All is well since you have your mice friends to hang with. She doesn’t even seem to care that she’s basically being locked in and told to live in the attic forever.
One of the reasons that I love the film Ever After so much is that Drew Barrymore’s character is fierce, strong, and always standing up for herself. This new particular Cinderella lacks that completely. Her mother taught her to be kind so that becomes her main priority. And with more than enough people in this world who are willing to take advantage of a person who doesn’t command respect and fairness, this message falls flat.
Yes, it’s a fairy tale. But I was surprised they made Cinderella such a pushover, and as a woman who has had to stand up for herself time and time again, it disappointed and bothered me. Being beautiful and nice are not the two most important characteristics a girl should aspire to be.