One thing Kenneth Branagh wants you to take away from his new directorial film Cinderella (in theaters March 13)? Cinderella is a proactive princess: “she doesn’t just wait around but also has this uncynical belief in the power of kindness and courage”.
Kenneth’s version of Cinderella isn’t a re-imagining or a story told from a different perspective like Maleficent was, it’s an embellishment of the story by French author Charles Perrault in 1697 and Disney’s 1950 version. It’s still told from Cinderella’s view, but Kenneth wanted to make sure that we knew more to the story than what we have seen before. We learn about Ella’s relationship with her parents and why she doesn’t just leave.
I think a question anybody asks of a modern Cinderella, why doesn’t she leave? Well, she may leave there. And she certainly has a passionate response to it and a passionate response to the prince that she encounters. But as she talks about later on, she stays there partly ’cause she – in her view at this point, she honors her mother and father. And that’s a positive and proactive decision I think to stay there.
With the making of Cinderella came the decisions on using various landmarks from the English Countryside. The outside of Cinderella’s house was all built for real in a place called Black Park. The forest where the prince and Cinderella meet is in Windsor Great Park, which is essentially the Queen’s back garden. In this park, Kenneth says, there are oak trees over 600 years old – they were there when Shakespeare was alive. Giving this information to Lily James (Cinderella) and Richard Madden (the Prince) made them feel even more magical about where they were filming.
Kenneth Branagh’s favorite scene was the ballroom scene. The grandeur of it, the moment Lily walks out onto the stairs is nothing short of spectacular.
I wanted to take people to the ball. But I also knew that for me the scene was just as much about his hand on the small of her back in the beginning of that dance. so it was trying to keep that big large-scale ambitions with just wanting the human dynamic of the boy meets girl moment.
Kenneth didn’t leave out one of the best parts (in my opinion) of the original animated version – that’s Cinderella’s friendship with the mice. I learned that the mice actually have their own storyline and dialogue within the film, but whether we will know what that is or not remains a mystery:
Chris Weitz and I sat down, and we wrote words, dialogue for all four of the mice in every scene in which they appeared. And then we recorded them with actors a couple of different ways. Sometimes we made the actors say it very, very, very slowly so that when we then speeded it up to be in sort of mice squeak mode, you could just get a half a hint, half a hint of what they say.
For instance Gus Gus at the end when he finally is persuaded that he shouldn’t eat the cheese and maybe he should jump on the back of the other three so they can open the window and they can hear Cinderella singing. He does something. and there were a few little throw away remarks like that. I don’t think– although sometimes you do stuff unconsciously. But there is a secret mouse play and screenplay inside movie.
On casting Lily James and Richard Madden – relative newcomers to Hollywood – Kenneth Branagh knew he had to get it right. His Cinderella had to have an approachable beauty, a kindness, and the ability to stand her own in scenes with iconic actresses Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter. His prince needed to be intelligent, witty, and a gentleman.
I heard Lily James’ voice first. I thought, God, that’s a beautiful voice. And– and then she was a beautiful girl. And then she was very patient across a lot of auditions and things. And eventually it just became clear that she was the one.
I think both these actors, I love the idea that were prepared to be uncynical in the film, and just sort of respond directly to each other and that a gallantry, a courtship – the desire to woo, to serve, to listen were things that he felt could be played very positively and would be very, very attractive and that– that, in a way there was a natural disposition in the world of the piece that we presented for him to, to love her.
Kenneth Branagh created a perfect storm of beauty, talent, magic, and love to Cinderella. See it Friday March 13th when it opens nationwide.
As part of the #CinderellaEvent blog team, I was invited to Hollywood to be treated like royalty courtesy of Disney. All opinions are my own.