Lily James is radiant as Cinderella in director Kenneth Branagh’s enchanting live-action version of the fairy-tale favourite.
All the fondly familiar elements you remember from Charles Perrault’s 18th-century tale and Disney’s 1950 cartoon – including the magically transformed pumpkin and mice and the glass slipper that slips from the winsome heroine’s foot at the stroke of midnight – are here and Branagh’s deft hand means everything comes up looking fresh.
James sparkles, even under a coating of soot, as her downtrodden orphan endures the spiteful regime of a cruel stepmother (Cate Blanchett, magnificently haughty) and snooty stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger, a gleefully ghastly double act).
But her Cinders is no wet rag. She’s far from limp when she first encounters the prince (Richard Madden) in the midst of a woodland hunt and it’s her lively wit as much as her beauty that makes her so alluring.
Branagh’s film has the human touch, but it also ensures there’s plenty of magic and spectacle, too.
Sandy Powell’s costumes and Dante Ferretti’s production design are suitably ravishing and the eye-popping CGI – relatively sparingly used – comes into its own during the story’s big transformation scene, when Helena Bonham Carter’s delightfully dotty fairy godmother, an amused twinkle in her eye, turns pumpkin, mice, lizards and duck into carriage, horses, footmen and driver.
Finding the enduring delight in the age-old tale, Branagh’s accomplishments as director are no less dazzling.