DAILYMAIL – Cinderella, as embodied by Downton Abbey star Lily James in a blockbuster new movie version, is no victim. She’s equal to any man, according to director Kenneth Branagh. ‘We wanted it not to be the film where a girl waits for a man to come along before she can be happy. She’s happy inside before he comes along,’ Branagh told me.

Disney’s epic version of the Cinders story opens on March 27, with Lily in the central role and Richard Madden as the Prince who falls in love with her when they dance at a ball. ‘Our Cinderella isn’t afraid of the love and romance between them — but she’s an equal in it,’ Branagh explained.

When I visited the set during filming, Lily told me that Cinderella had a superpower. ‘It’s something inside her,’ the actress teased. What could it be, I wondered? ‘It’s goodness,’ she said.

‘Good can also equal smart, funny and happy,’ Branagh agreed later. ‘Goodness is not about being pretty, precious, self-righteous, holier than thou. Lily as Cinderella makes goodness cool.’

The actor-director was speaking to me from Sweden, where he’s filming the last three of 12 full-length Wallander detective dramas. He said he, too, saw goodness as the ‘ultimate superpower’, able to outdo the more deliberate manipulations of Cate Blanchett’s character, Cinderella’s stepmother Lady Tremaine.

Branagh said that Cinderella’s step-family — which also features Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera (Lily’s co-star from Downton) as the step-sisters — are not the pantomime villains usually associated with this fairy tale. ‘Cate Blanchett!’ he said. ‘Once you have her, you already know that you’re moving away from the one-dimensional, the two-dimensional . . . and you’re into the multi-dimensional. She’s an absolute thoroughbred as an artist. She has a skill level just off the charts.’

He added that one of the reasons Lily was cast was because they felt she’d be able to hold her own against Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter, the fairy godmother. Three-time Oscar-winning designer Dante Ferretti created the extraordinary sets and Sandy Powell, who also has an Oscar hat trick, designed the awesome costumes.

I went out to Pinewood when Branagh was filming the ball dance sequences, with choreographer Rob Ashford overseeing what seemed like 1,001 dancers and extras. It was one of the most magnificent scenes I’ve ever witnessed on a film set, a taste of which can be seen in the trailer being released on Wednesday.

Every single crew member and visitor watched as though hypnotised as the massive ensemble moved, almost as one, to a waltz composed by Patrick Doyle — commissioned to write a score that had ‘a great emphasis on romance, sparkle and magic’.

It was magic, that’s for sure.


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