A tale as old as time, told three different ways



If there was any fairytale icon I have yearned to embody in my adulthood, it is Cinderella.

Cinderella has long since endured a bad rep amid her flashier female protagonist cohorts. She doesn’t wield swords, make ill-advised deals with sea witches, or cultivate ice powers. Her ‘I want’ moment isn’t escaping the depths of the ocean or joining the Chinese army. All Cinderella truly wants is a night off.

In addition to having sensible desires, Cinderella comes loaded with skills that people dismiss as if it were a slug on a wet pavement. She can sing, sew, cook, make tea and do the dishes for years on end – all without killing anyone! Behold three different Cinderellas who tackled the evils in their life in similar yet different ways, two with aplomb, and one not so much.

Cinderella (1950) (7/10)

Hailing from the hand-drawn Disney era, this Cinderella may look basic, but behind her beatific smile lies epic level self-control. She had every opportunity to poison the ball of evil that is Lucifer, a fat cat who gets no exercise barring torturing Cinderella. She could also, had she tapped into her inner villain, drowned him in a bucket. However, not only does Cinderella let Lucifer live, she also refuses to explode into a fireball of rage when he leaves dirty footprints on a freshly mopped floor. Rapunzel would have whacked him with a frying pan, and Elsa would have turned him into an ice cube (and then left him out in the sun). Cinderella, however, just tuts at Lucifer and sings about nightingales. Anyone can brandish a frying pan, and most of us with ice powers would be able to pull off the ice cube thing, but to possess that level of Herculean restraint? That is something only Kung Fu masters with a lifetime of training can achieve. The only reason this Cinderella loses three marks is because her prince has all the appeal of a plank of wood. She could have held out for something so much better.

Cinderella 2015 (11/10)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who craves leaving his mark on whatever he touches (yes, 5-hour Hamlet and criminal Poirot moustache, we are looking at you), I had rock-bottom expectations when I sat down to watch this – and was blown away. That is the thing about rock-bottom expectations, you can cling to them all want, but when Lily James smiles and turns up in the most beautiful blue dress in the history of the world, those rock-bottom expectations disintegrate and are overtaken by breathtaking wonder. Lily James’s Cinderella did what her animated counterpart couldn’t: woo people over with her overarching positivity (aided perhaps by the lack of evil fat cats in her immediate vicinity.) This Cinderella’s motto – ‘have courage and be kind’ – had the full potential to evoke bucketfuls of saccharine vomit from us rock-bottom expectation holders. And yet – credit to Branagh’s vision and James’ acting sensibilities – it didn’t. Not only does this Cinderella embody true patience and kindness, she looks beautiful in rags and even has a prince you can contemplate running towards. If I were on a long-haul flight and this was one of the options, I’d watch it twice.

Cinderella 2021 (minus 2/10)

Where to even begin dissecting this monstrosity? This is not a Cinderella trapped in her own house waiting on her stepmother and stepsisters. She lives with them, but this is not a stepmother who approaches anywhere close to the evil achieved by her predecessors. For example, when the stepmother character informs Cinderella that the tea is awful, she is not wrong; all Cinderella has done is serve her boiling water. (Why should mediocrity be rewarded?)

Because this stepmother has no idea how to exercise control, Cinderella is free to wander around all over the countryside and persuade random queens to buy dresses she has designed. Her eventual appearance at the palace does not come at the end of rising tension. (Although thanks to the abominable cover-oriented soundtrack, your attention is focused less on the lack of tension and more on trying to cover your ears). Cinderella’s eventual departure from her stepmother’s house is not the tale of struggle it should have been. Avoid, avoid, avoid, unless you enjoy headache-inducing vocals and music that will leave your jaw hanging open for all the wrong reasons.

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