Sir Kenneth Branagh explains his take on “Cinderella”

Sir Kenneth Branagh (Gilderoy Lockhart) was at the Berlin Film Festival this week to showcase his new directorial project, Cinderella. There’s been a slew of live-action retellings of classic fairy tales in recent years, including Snow White and the Huntsman and Maleficent, which have differed significantly from the animated Disney versions most of us are familiar with. While at the festival, he spoke about how his version of Cinderella has also been updated for modern viewers.

Fairy tales are not a source material Branagh has worked with before, but he explains why the project appealed to him:

But when you go back to the original source material, you become aware of how all-pervasive this Cinderella myth is. How many times do you read about ‘the Cinderella story,’ the story of the underdog, the story of the ordinary human being, often subjected to cruelty and ignorance and neglect, who somehow triumphs?

He also explains that the animated Disney version deviated from the original fairy tale:

The animation actually took a number of liberties with the original story, which of course has been told and retold across every type of culture, with different names and even different types of cruelty. What we put front and center was a level of reality and psychological truth in the performances that would be surprising in the context of a fairy tale.

The director said he wasn’t daunted by the prospect of taking on such a well-known and loved story:

Anybody who goes into the Disney world and takes on one of these live-action versions of an animated classic is always up against that kind of ancestry. But my entire filmmaking career, and indeed my entire career, has been in and around classics. What I think it confirms when people come back to the stories again is not that they’re tired but that the themes and the stories and the character are ageless and that they have a different kind of resonance for each passing generation.

Parallels have been drawn between Cinderella and Ever After since both feature more character development for the protagonist and see her meeting the prince long before the ball. Branagh explains that although his film is still set in a fantasy world, he has updated the characters for modern times:

The first time we meet the grown-up Cinderella, she’s reading a book; she isn’t just scrubbing the steps. She’s already intellectually stimulated. And she makes a decision to try [to] understand the cruelty and the ignorance of her stepmother and stepsisters. We see a strength of character that is sort of a form of non­-violent resistance. And she meets the prince way ahead of the ball, before she decides to fall for him. They get to know each other, and the seeds of a romance are sewn in terms of equality. It’s not about a man rescuing a woman.

Finally, Branagh talked about the issues behind choosing material for projects and why he often turns to classics:

One of the reasons I work in the classics is that all sorts of issues [that] are universal and timeless can be addressed in that way, and I think all artists have to find their way to it. Some wish to be more directly provocative. But they need to do so honestly and not from a position of either fear or desire to react in some abnormal or extreme way.

Cinderella stars Lily James (Downton Abbey), Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), and Helena Bonham Carter (Potter‘s own Bellatrix Lestrange). The film is released in the US on March 13 and in the UK on April 3, and you can watch the trailer for it here.

Will you be going to see Cinderella? What do you hope will be different or the same compared to the animated version?