Fun fact: Disney’s 1950 animated Cinderella won the Golden Bear for music at the first-ever Berlinale in 1951. Sixty-four years later, Kenneth Branagh’s live action take is bowing out of competition here. This Disney film has its international premiere tonight and while reviews won’t be out until much later in the day, the press corps was clearly delighted, especially after several dark movies over the course of the fest which winds down tomorrow.
Branagh helmed the new version of the classic fairy tale with Lily James in the title role, Cate Blanchett as the very wicked stepmother, Helena Bonham-Carter as the Fairy Godmother, Richard Madden as Prince Charming and Stellan Skarsgård as the Grand Duke. They were all in Berlin today discussing the film, which Branagh said he set out to make “about courage and kindness and psychological modernity in the middle of this traditional thing.”
But it also couldn’t be mawkish. “The challenge was to find a lightness of touch that wasn’t glib, where we could be un-cynical without being sentimental or sappy or juvenile and immature. The psychological DNA of the story makes it possible for it to surprise by the extent and depth of its emotion,” Branagh said.
Producer Allison Shearmur spoke of the power of Cinderella and how she differs from another heroine, Katniss Everdeen. “I worked on Hunger Games with a very strong female protagonist. What was evolutionary about Ken’s take is that (Cinderella’s) strength wasn’t necessarily overt. She did not hold a bow and arrow, her strength is her internal kindness and courage. Young girls don’t have to have a sword and a shield or a bow and arrow, but the ability to look inside themselves.”
Blanchett said there was confusion when she told others she was doing Cinderella, “Some people looked at me with a slight pause and very kindly said ‘Are you playing Cinderella?’.” As laughs rolled through the room, she added, “Save that for the Sydney drag shows.”
Bonham Carter gave the Disney merchandising folks an idea. Her Fairy Godmother dress had 4,000 LED lights and required a 15-pound battery pack “up my bum,” she said. She then suggested, “I could be an eight-inch lamp on children’s bedside tables.”
The lavish production was shot at Pinewood Studios on sets designed by Dante Ferretti and included a candelabra that required 2,500 specially-designed candles with real burning flames. Producer David Barron said they burned for eight hours at a time, and that the crew had to be able to change each one in just 20 minutes. “It was a real feat of planning.”
Shooting a key scene in which Cinderella and Prince Charming dance at the ball, was a particularly moving moment for everyone involved. Branagh said, “I have never seen a film studio packed with so many people” from the grips to the caterers to the 600 extras “all wanting to go to the ball” with endorphins high, “the joint was jumping.” Blanchett praised James’ “Olympic feat” of being graceful despite a dress that was four-feet wide.
The talk diverted from Cinderella on two occasions:
Branagh was asked if we can expect a screen adaptation of his recent raved-about staging of Macbeth. “Who knows when we’ll do the film? We enjoyed the stage play very much… It would be lovely to put a camera in front of it at some point.”
Putting Blanchett on the spot, one reporter wondered about the differences between working with Branagh and working with Terrence Malick. Blanchett appears (or does she?) in Knight Of Cups which screened here on Sunday. Malick “is a philosopher and a poet, not that Ken isn’t. But (Cinderella) is a film that has an incredibly strong narrative drive. Terry would describe the experience of filmmaking like going fishing.”
On Knight Of Cups, “He knew internally what he was looking for, but didn’t know which moments were going to end up in the film. The narrative is less important for him than an exploration.” Malick is notorious for whittling down or even cutting roles entirely from his finished movies. And so, Blanchett said, “I don’t even know if I’m in the Terrence Malick film!”