Movie Review: “Cinderella” (Kenneth Branagh, USA 2015)

Back in the early ’80s, Kenneth Branagh was the most successful young Shakespearean actor since Laurence Olivier. Critics were never big fans of his work, but he showed a remarkable ability to connect with audiences. He nearly made his big break with a film many may recognize called Amadeus (Milos Forman, USA 1984) but his film career instead didn’t find much traction until he put together his theater troupe (including his then-wife Emma Thompson and his mentor Derek Jacobi) to create a film version of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, with himself taking on not just the lead role but the position of director in Henry V (Kenneth Branagh, UK 1989). The film was a huge success for Branagh both as a director and as an actor, and that success continued for several years with the minor exception of the quickly-forgotten Peter’s Friends (UK 1992). Then, his Hamlet (UK/USA 1996) met with a more mixed reception (wrongly, as far as I am concerned–it’s a brilliant film), with many finding the four-hour runtime excessive and Branagh’s performance an over-the-top attempt to outdo Olivier’s most famous role (Branagh was better–I’ll put that on record anytime). He was still a promising film director with some very strong credits already under his belt (Dead Again [USA 1991] is an impressive film that has since been forgotten, but it shows off that there’s more to Branagh than being a modern Olivier impersonator.) and a fantastically gifted, charismatic actor, but it seems that the criticisms of what he hoped to be his magnum opus stung him.

It took a few years before Branagh returned to directing with the ill-conceived Shakespeare musical Love’s Labour’s Lost (UK/France/USA 2000) and a few years again until he returned with another Shakespeare film and a return to his original fascination with Mozart, neither of which got much attention from anyone. Then, in 2011, he returned to directing with a surprising presence in the Marvel stable for Thor (USA), which he followed with another forgettable action film in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (USA 2014). However, the financial success of these films seems to have returned the once-promising director to the point where he can take on a top-notch project. Disney could hire whomever it wanted to direct its live-action version of Cinderella, and it went with Branagh–that says something about where he currently stands. A guy who was rejected repeatedly by the Harry Potter franchise now gets to take on one of the signature stories of the biggest-name movie studio in history, and I for one welcomed his return. Continue reading

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On the Anniversary of William Shakespeare’s Death

Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (UK/USA 1996) is suggested viewing for everyone (just remember that you need four hours). Like pretty much all film Shakespeare productions, it’s stagy, but any one of Kate Winslet playing Ophelia, Julie Christie playing Gertrude, or Branagh himself as Hamlet would be worth the price of admission alone, and here you get all of them. If you thought I was over-praising Kate Winslet before, watch this and you won’t anymore.

A simpler Shakespeare suggestion for the day is the quasi-documentary Looking for Richard (Al Pacino, USA 1996). It’s messy and impossible to explain but it’s a fun watch and Pacino is just a perfect Richard–everything that has made him something of a self-parody in the last 20 years works in that role.