Kenneth Branagh's Very Christian Cinderella
This "Cinderella" is not only free of ideological agendas, it reflects a deeply Christian vision of sin, love, and salvation
Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella” is the most surprising Hollywood movie of the year so far.
I say this because the director manages to tells the familiar fairy tale without irony, hyper-feminist sub-plots, Marxist insinuations, deconstructionist cynicism, or arch condescension. In so doing, he actually allows the spiritual, indeed specifically Christian, character of the tale to emerge. I realize that it probably strikes a contemporary audience as odd that Cinderella might be a Christian allegory, but keep in mind that most of the fairy stories and children’s tales compiled by the Brothers Grimm and later adapted by Walt Disney found their roots in the decidedly Christian culture of late medieval and early modern Europe.
In Branagh’s telling, Ella is the daughter of wonderful parents, both of whom instill in her a keen sense of moral virtue and joie de vivre. The girl’s idyllic childhood was interrupted by the sudden illness of her mother, who, while on her death-bed, delivered to Ella the injunction always to be “kind and courageous.” Her father then remarried and brought his new wife and her two daughters to live with him and Ella. Some years later, Ella’s father left on a lengthy business trip. Before he set out, she enjoined him to send back to her the first branch that his shoulder would brush while on the journey. A few weeks later, a servant arrived with the branch in his hand and the dreadful news that Ella’s father had become sick and had died.
The now utterly isolated Ella became the victim of her wicked stepmother (played by the always compelling Cate Blanchett) and her obnoxious stepsisters, who visit upon her every type of cruelty and injustice. They even take away her bedroom, forcing her to sleep by the dying embers of the fire to keep warm. The ashes that stain her face give rise to the cruel nickname her stepsisters assign to her. Significantly, the cat belonging to Ella’s stepfamily is called Lucifer.
So we have a beautiful, vivacious, and morally upright young lady whose life becomes a nightmare through the intervention of untimely death and wicked oppression.