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While Kenneth Branagh became best known as a director for his big screen adaptations of William Shakespeare’s greatest works, in the last few years he has done his part to completely shake up his own reputation. He got a taste of fantasy adventure with Thor in 2011, and tried his hand at political intrigue with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit earlier this year. For his next feature, he's tackling fairy tales with Cinderella. We still have nearly a full year before we get to see how his adaptation of the classic tale will turn out, but earlier today we got a very special sneak peek of the movie with a special screening of footage shown during the Walt Disney Studios presentation at CinemaCon.
Kicking off with the classic "Once Upon A Time" voice over narration, the footage began with shots of a young girl named Ella living what seems to be a very fairy tale-esque life. She has a father (Ben Chaplin) who clearly loves her and we see shots of the two of them playing in a field as happy as can be.
This all changes, however, with the arrival of Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) - Ella's new evil stepmother - and her daughters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera). Ella’s father goes on a trip, leaving his daughter with her new guardians, but things go from bad to worse when he winds up getting ill while on the road and dies. Ella (played as an adult by Lily James) goes from being a beloved daughter to being basically a slave in her own house, forced to do all of the chores and labor around the house (the amount of soot on her face is what earns her the nickname "Cinderella").
Things start to look up when Ella goes riding on her horse into the woods and runs into Prince Charming (sharing a bit of tête-à-tête about the dangers of riding in the forest alone), and then learns of a royal ball being held at the palace. Ella takes one of her mother’s dresses and is excited to attend the gala event, but is shut down when Lady Tremaine, Anastasia and Drizella rip her dress and tell her that she can’t go.
Devastated by her stepmother and stepsisters’ cruelty, she runs out to the garden crying, but it is here where she meets an old woman (Helena Bonham Carter) who reveals herself as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. In a sudden flash the old woman goes from appearing decrepit to beautiful, wearing an elegant puffy blue dress and blonde locks that hang to her shoulders.
From there it is time to get to work. The Fairy Godmother starts making requests for various fruits and vegetables, from watermelon to cantaloupe to artichoke (most of which Cinderella doesn’t even recognize the name of), but then the titular heroine reveals that she does have some pumpkins. Using her magic, the Fairy Godmother enchants one of the orange squashes and makes it grow to tremendous size before transforming it into a beautifully ornate gold carriage that Cinderella can take to the ball.
Cinderella arrives at the royal event as fireworks fill the sky and the screen is filled with some stunning production design, as the palace that was built for the movie is really something to behold and all of the characters are clad in elegant suits and dresses. Cinderella immediately catches the eye of the prince (who doesn’t seem to recognize her) and nervously asks her for the party’s first dance.
After a quick montage featuring more footage from Ella’s childhood and even a bit of sword fighting, the footage flashed back to Ella and the Prince dancing together. The young woman says. "Are they looking at you?" and the prince replies, "Believe me, they’re all looking at you."
While we were told before the footage that some of the special effects had yet to be completed and that the movie is still very much a work in process, I was definitely impressed by what I saw. There is an interesting mix of tones at work, as heavy drama is lightened by some funny dialogue and rapport, and the film looks gorgeously shot. Of course, this is the footage that Disney wanted us to see in order to get us excited for the film, but my interest is definitely piqued.
It may be a while before anything from Cinderella is released into the public sphere, but stay tuned for a trailer in the second half of the year and get ready for the film's theatrical release on March 13, 2015.