Journalists. Photographers. And I use the term loosely.
As a woman in my thirties, one who writes about things as my oxygen, I wonder what any of us would do for enough money. Would I write about people, even intrusively, for a living if given the chance?
Have I done it now? Already? Before?
How can it make anyone feel good about themselves to hound another human being, with their camera or their pen?
Responsibility: direct or indirect.
A world’s grief. Anger toward someone, needing to direct blame somewhere, the press. The press reports. The papers are printed. People buy the papers and mags.
More. More. More. We always want more.
the two boys asked for none of it. That’s mostly where my thoughts return to.
I am not British and barely knew who Princess Diana was when she died. I wasn’t alive for the wedding seen around the world.
A sea of people, rather than water. That is what Diana must have seen when she looked from her vantage point, after saying her vows.
I would rather see a sea of Red or Black, blue or green, but the press fed off of the woman and she fed off of them, in a way, at least at first and for a long time afterward.
She was a fashion icon and a princess, but not only that. She used her position as a bit of an outsider, under the thumb of the monarchy, to become a change maker, by reaching out to those in need, those no one else wanted to associate with.
HIV and AID’s, in the 80s, when the hysteria about both was growing and at its greatest fever pitch. She shook hands, hugged those diagnosed and dying of the feared and misunderstood disease.
She came here, to Toronto, to sit by the beds of dying patients in hospice care. She walked a minefield, literally and figuratively. Danger signs.
Such grief of so many, I would not cry. As a fourteen-year-old child, fresh off of a kidney transplant and a thrilling wedding – I attended, my first of my oldest cousin. That was my wedding of the century.
Of royalty, I knew nothing. A fairytale life gone wrong is more like it.
Fairytales. I was familiar with these…the concept, the ideals, as a young girl. My Disney fairytale movies were my favourite. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, with the bright pink dresses and dancing with their handsome princes. I may have had similar dreams at the time, but what did I know? A lack of life experience and my own understandable immaturity.
What do titles represent, really? Sometimes, they bring just the right kind of attention and sometimes the wrong kind.
Now, upon reflection, twenty years later I do feel sad. I know of celebrity of her two sons. They are the British royalty of my generation.
I do perk up when I hear their names on the news. I bought the fake imitation giant ring, modelled after that of the one worn by both Kate and her mother-in-law, still lounging in my drawer. I woke to watch the wedding, once again broadcast live.
Prince William and Kate came to Canada after their marriage, the same date as my big brother’s own marriage took place. I hope one generation learns from the previous one, in certain cases, that sometimes it happens we grow wiser with enough knowledge.
They’ve come again since, since then, and with their two small children, touring parts of the country in which I live, that still sees itself as the child of Britain, past and present.
What is Kate wearing? Where are the couple going next? Are they in love, for real, or is it all just another fairytale?
But I do feel for two boys who, in August of 1997, woke up to the loss of their mother when I clung to mine for dear life, during some of the hardest and scariest times of my own childhood.
Are those boys/men in some ways like their mother, under scrutiny of duty, feeling hunted or like outsiders, wanting to reach out to those in need, perhaps not born with some of the advantages? They grew up with cameras as their mother tried to navigate a life of celebrity and being followed. She was hunted, more even than Prince Charles.
Now that I am more aware, I watch documentaries on the weekend after the anniversary of her death. I listen to stories of a nineteen-year-old who got married much too young, to an older man who shouldn’t have ever proposed to her in the first place, who was likely always in love with another woman. He should have been with this other lady all along and now appears that he is.
People marry the wrong person all the time, every single day and have babies with them. In these cases it is my hardest task not to judge because none of us are perfect. This challenges me as an adult who wants to see everyone happy, no matter whether they’re famous or not.
As a writer, this is my obituary of sorts, no matter how stream of consciousness based it may be, twenty years on.
I don’t know, then, why this latest retelling of Cinderella caught my attention the way that it did.
Actually, I have a hunch and it wasn’t the most solid reason to assume I’d like this new live-action production, directed by the brilliant Kenneth Branagh.
He is a multi-talented man and I felt he would pick the best actors to fill the roles and would present the story in a new and fresh way, just enough that I might come to love the story and see it in a whole new light.
**There’s the fact that not one, but two of the actors in this film can be seen on the beloved nighttime soap Downton Abbey.
**There’s the fact that Kenneth cast the wildly talented Cate Blanchett (most notably of Lord of the Rings and Elfin fame to me) to play the wicked step-mother.
**There’s the fact that the special effects and costumes were/are supposed to be phenomenal.
Everybody loves the story of Cinderella. As I have stated above, me not so much, but I was soon turned around on the matter, a fair bit at least.
The first good sign was the fact that I went to see this film with DS (descriptive service) and it worked. I had the worst luck with that lately, but as happy as I was when I first heard that voice coming through my wireless headphones, that is not what sealed the deal for me.
It was not one of those times when the basic storyline was taken and changed around, to fit a certain theme or time period.
(Ella Enchanted or Ever After.)
This film sticks extremely close to the well-known story, loved by so many generations.
These most recent of retellings often give background, such as with my favourite Maleficent, and this particular Cinderella was no different.
She is a young woman who suffers a lot of loss, very early on, but she is clearly loved by her parents and has been taught some really really excellent lessons and values from both of them.
It’s hard for any child when a step-parent and step-siblings are introduced into the picture. Cinderella is no exception there, but she attempts, at least, to make the best of her circumstances.
When her father is no longer there to protect her, her home life becomes unbearable, if not for the mice who become her friends.
Banished to the attic and made to wait on her remaining horrible step-family hand-and-foot would be dreadful without the strength her parents instilled in her and her creature companions.
Now I was unaware enough not to have realized, until watching this time, that Cinderella got her name not by any accident.
There’s a really well-done scene where Ella is caught having slept by the fire to keep warm. Her step-sisters call her Cinder-Ella, after cinders from the hearth.
After suffering an extended period of torment and ridicule from the only “family” she’s got left, she retreats into the forrest, on a horse, to get away for a little while.
She comes across a stranger in the woods, teaches him about the value and respect for all living things, and an instant connection is formed between her and this mysterious Kit the so-called Apprentice.
She leaves a lasting impression. They both disguise their true identities, for different reasons.
Will they ever meet again? Of course they will.
There are procedures to follow as a prince when searching for one’s future bride, but Kit isn’t about to let that get in the way, stop him from seeing the captivating girl on the horse, from the woods again.
A royal ball is announced and Ella’s hopes are soon dashed, when her step-mother forbids her from going and posing any competition for her own two daughters, in the hopes that one of them might be chosen by a prince, for a life of luxury and wealth.
All this time, an all-knowing narrator has been explaining what we’ve been watching on screen and I like this element, also used in last year’s Maleficent.
I loved the British feel of this film and it’s splendid acting from all the cast.
I must say that my favourite of them all is Helena Bonham Carter, who is both narrator and Fairy Godmother. She brings a feeling of magic and wonder to this film that I couldn’t get enough of.
After myself only seeing her as the supremely evil Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series of films, it was sweet to see her as the ultimate embodiment of goodness and generosity here.
The continual theme throughout this movie is what Ella’s mother taught her before she died and Ella never stops honouring her mother’s memory by finding the good in people and making the best of her bad situations.
The Fairy Godmother appears on the scene, just as Ella is at her lowest point, believing the ball is going on somewhere and she is missing her one chance for true love.
Fairy Godmother pops up and brings her own sprinkling of magic by waving her signature magic wand.
A pumpkin becomes a coach. Mice, a goose, and two lizards are transformed into the driver and horses. Ella’s mother’s dress, now in tatters but of which means so much to her, is altered into the most beautiful gown in all the land.
Of course she is presented with her famous glass slippers (almost as famous as the ruby ones from another famous tale) and off she goes, left with a warning to return by the stroke of midnight when the spell will be broken.
These elements of the story are at the core of what Cinderella is supposed to be about.
I’m simply putting it out there that Helena is the best thing about this film. She’s charming and witty and the mother figure Ella so badly missed and needs.
She is the kindness that shows up at just the right moment. This, going to show Ella that such kindnesses do still exist.
Of course I missed out on the stunning visual effects of orange vegetables and animals turned into royal transportation. I don’t see the visual beauty of the costumes.
And yet, I still lapped up every last feeling of magic and goodness that I could find.
The prince resists all advances from the many royal females and dolled-up girls, including wicked step-sister number one and number two, never losing hope that his dream girl would show herself.
They present her, in style, just her alone making her grand entrance into the ballroom.
Prince Kit and and Ella have their long awaited first dance. Jealousy boils up between all the other girls. Of course the step-sisters and mother have no idea who this mystery usurper is, not as of yet.
The prince and Ella sneak away and have a special evening, before the clock chimes twelve and she rushes off, losing one of her glass slippers in the process.
I followed along with the plot and story arc of course, but I knew what to expect with both. Any predictability, the bore I’ve thought this tale to be in the past, and all feelings of the poor damsel in distress and having to always wait to be rescued by a man were pushed to the back of my mind while watching.
It was the wonderful casting of characters and the themes of jealousy, cruelty, resentment, all balanced out by Ella’s never-ending compassion that drew me in.
Kenneth takes his time to present all of this and I didn’t mind. I followed along, loving the intermittent narration and the morality at the heart of the tale.
Things like status don’t matter. All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
These are the truths at the centre of Cinderella, in the year 2015.
This was no Brothers Grimm ending, bloody and hacked off heels or gouged out eyes, in spite of the horrible way Cinderella is treated for most of the story.
Without spoiling the ending (come on though because you should already know this) and without giving away a whole lot more unnecessary details, I leave off my review right here.
Happy endings and all that jazz. It was heart warming to see that this is a film for all ages.
I must admit that at times I grew slightly irritated by the amount of people in the theatre, both children and adults, making noise and filling up the seats.
It was March Break after all. What was I expecting?
There are so many lessons for all ages to be found in this film. The themes of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness made me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. I readily admit.
The star of this film, I will say again was not Cinderella herself (Lily James), at least not in my humble view. She was good and all, the perfect essence of all that is good and kind.
It’s the Fairy Godmother who steals the show and none of it would have been possible without her.
If I had to say, I would have to rate this film as being Four Stars.
In spite of an overly sappy line here or there, I was pleasantly surprised. Even as I entered the theatre with hope that I might just might like this version more than any other that has come before it, I wasn’t so sure at first.
Go see it for Helena’s performance alone, along with the other excellent actors that make up the other roles as simply an added bonus.
Go see it if you enjoy visual effects, or so I hear.
Go see a classic story, retold by a genius like Branagh and let the magic, enchantment, and spells draw you in and hold you there for a little while at least, even if only until the clock strikes midnight and the spell is broken.
I was so excited, waiting nearly a year for this particular variation of my favourite Disney story to come out, and all ready to review the film here. So what happened?
(Warning: possible spoilers ahead. Don’t get mad at me if you have not yet watched and you learn things you don’t want to. You have been fairly warned. In that case, move along and stop reading, but make a note to return after you’ve viewed the movie.)
It has been several months since that time and I am just getting around to writing this, but not because I hated it so much I backed out. I will explain below, now, finally with the release of Maleficent on DVD (or in whatever the hell form movies are coming out these days) I will try not to spoil the story too much. This is part movie review and part movie comparison.
Sleeping Beauty was my favourite fairy tale Disney cartoon as a child. I loved the fairies, Princess Aurora, and even the wicked Maleficent herself because she was just that frightening and evil, but what made her that way? That’s not really the sort of thing you look too deeply into as a child.
I didn’t know what to expect from this live-action movie. It’s been years since Sleeping Beauty and finally we were getting to hear the story from Maleficent’s point-of-view.
Angelina Jolie is the star of this movie, as it should be and as the title suggests, but she totally steals the spotlight.
In the movie trailer she seems just as evil as I’ve always known her to be. She made me tremble with just a few words, but there is a lot more to this version of the Disney villain.
The narrator helps to set the scene:
Let us tell an old story anew and we will see how well you know it.
Two kingdoms live side by side, a human kingdom and a fairy one, but not harmoniously.
The Moors is the home of all number of mythical, magical creatures, but a young fairy, Maleficent flies over it all, with her giant, powerfully strong wings.
She lives in a tree and hears of a human boy trying to steal from the Pool of Jewels.
She pities him and seeing something in him, lets him explain himself and the border guards back off. She has never seen a human up close. An unlikely friendship begins between the two.
She takes back the jewel the human boy was attempting to steal, tossing it back into the pool: “I didn’t throw it away. I delivered it home, as I’m going to do for you.”
She spares his life and saves him. They are both orphans and find something in each other. He risks danger to return to the Moors, just to see her again. He tosses away a ring made from iron he wears when he hears that iron burns fairies, just so their hands can touch.
He compliments her: “I like your wings,” as any boy might compliment a girl he likes. He came to the Moors, was about to steal a jewel, but ends up stealing her heart, something much more precious.
All the signs point to a love story between these two different races. Perhaps the old war between the two kingdoms is forgotten, but like most stories, the reality of life, the greed and ambition of man gets in the way.
Stefan’s desire, as he grows, grows too. I never would have considered, watching the Disney version as a child, any backstory between Maleficent and King Stefan, but it works well I think.
These two teenagers have had their own perfect version of true love’s first kiss, but the temptation and ambition have grown in Stefan. Maleficent has lost her own chance for any possibility of that iconic first kiss leading to a happy ending and they both lose out on everything they could have had together.
Maleficent is the protector of the Moors and must do so when the king and his army attack, envious and fearful. She is just a winged elf to him and he is no king to her.
He demands her head, but is wounded in battle. This is the perfect opportunity for the increasingly greedy young Stefan to show his loyalty to the kingdom of men. This is where things turned uncomfortable for me.
He uses the history between them to fool Maleficent. He can’t bring himself to kill her, but he does knock her out, using the dreaded iron against her, cutting off her precious wings.
Angelina spoke in interviews of the connection between this act in the movie and the invasion of sexual assault and rape. Of course this doesn’t have to be how this scene is read, but for me this is where the film took on a darker adult meaning, so different from the simple, innocent evil of the classic Disney film.
Angelina moved me, showing her truly perfect casting for this role, when she awakes as Maleficent to find that she has been robbed of her wings.
I could hardly even stand to listen to the scene. Her sounds of pure agony and despair on learning of her loss were difficult to get through. Although I could not see, I found it a hard scene to watch.
Stefan has his proof to present to the dying king and takes position as the newly reining King Stefan. He marries the dead king’s daughter and they have a child: Princess Aurora.
Back in the Moors Maleficent has no way of flying over her land to see what’s going on. One day she comes across the character of Diabal and saves his life. He pledges his loyalty to her from then on.
The pet raven Maleficent has as her loyal companion in Sleeping Beauty becomes a real man at times. Then, as a raven, is able to fly and find out what has become of Stefan.
Upon learning of the birth of the princess Maleficent feels betrayed all the more by Stefan and the well-known evil, hatred, and vengeance grows in her. She uses her magic to put up a wall of thorns around the Moors, just like the wall she puts around her heart. This is more reminiscent of the darkness of Maleficent’s castle in the 1959 film.
It is her rendition of the famous Christening scene that caught my attention with its power and the big way in which she plays it.
Angelina plays this with the right amount of resemblance to the original movie, but with her own spin on just the right touch of evil glee to be heard in her voice as she curses Aurora.
When she pledges to curse the princess to death on her sixteenth birthday by the prick from a spindle of a spinning wheel, it is clear Maleficent wants to hurt King Stefan as much as he has hurt her.
When he begs her to spare his daughter, she says:
“I like you begging. Do it again.”
At first she feeds on his desperation and it makes her feel a little better, but then there is a sudden turn and she seems to soften a little then and reduces the outcome of the curse to only a deep sleep until true love’s first kiss.
It is a scene full of tension and anxiety. Maleficent wants to make Stefan suffer for what he did to her, like a victim of sexual assault who might want the same thing from their perpetrator, no longer believing that true love exists.
“This curse will last until the end of time. No power on earth can change it.”
The fairies aren’t like I know them and love them in Sleeping Beauty. Their names have been changed. They were always a bit useless once they were made to live without their magical powers for the sixteen years it takes to raise Aurora, but although still genuinely good and kind, they have been reduced to something farcical.
They are known, not as fairies, but as pixies. The blue one always reminded me of my grandmother, but in this telling of the story, the pink, green, and blue pixies (one played by the evil Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter), they come across as bumbling, foolish, ridiculous creatures. They have a fluttery wispy sound that grated on my nerves every time I heard it.
The scene where the baby is left crying and they discuss that she must be hungry, yet none of them do anything about it. This is where Maleficent comes in.
In the original film they would never have been so thoughtless. It appears as if they don’t really care for the child very much, not one of the three feeding the poor baby. Maleficent and her companion step in, Maleficent starting with resentment, referring to Aurora as “Beastie”, but she saves her life, more than once.
From then on she is a shadow who is always following and looking over Aurora as she grows. She tries to remain cool and detached, but slowly grows to care for the girl. This is a definite departure from the Disney classic, but it adds a level of depth to the story that nobody would have predicted.
As Maleficent’s heart thaws, it is King Stefan whose heart hardens as the years pass by and he is determined to find Maleficent. He slowly loses touch with reality.
All throughout the omniscient narrator speaks lines about the life Aurora lives, such as:
“Far away from the lofty palace that she remembered not.”
During one particular conversation between Maleficent and Aurora:
“There is an evil in this world, revenge, and hatred.”
Aurora asks Maleficent why she does not possess wings like the other fairies and Maleficent hesitantly explains that she had wings once, but they were taken from her.
She speaks of her long lost wings with wistful sadness. That they were stolen, but that they had been big and strong, never faltering, she could trust them.
These wings were a part of her and it was a terrible violation, what the now king had done by stealing them, removing them like he did.
As for true love, both the king and the “evil” fairy no longer believe.
True love does not exist.
I suppose I found the emphasis on this topic in this version to be the most interesting part.
Perhaps it is the guilt of this act that has eaten away at the king ever since. Perhaps he has blamed himself for the whole mess, for what has happened to his daughter and to the wild fairy he once loved.
As for his daughter, she is a princess, but she does not know it, until the day before her sixteenth birthday. She has confronted the shadow and is not scared of what she discovers. She has developed a strong bond with Maleficent, happy until the pixies inform her who she really is and that she must return to her father, the king.
The scene where Aurora meets a stranger in the woods isn’t at all like the key scene in Sleeping Beauty, but it still leads you to believe he will be the true love who will break the inevitable curse.
There is no magical moment when Aurora and Prince Philip dance in a woodland glen, with all the friendly woodland animals watching. It feels like this handsome prince is merely a background character in this updated adaptation. Any feelings of love are slow to grow, unlike the sudden realization of feelings that is a naive idea of love from a child’s point of view in a Disney movie.
Aurora is disillusioned with Maleficent and the pixies and runs to meet her father in the palace, which feels a little unrealistic, but it has gotten her back to where the danger really lies.
Even King Stefan’s insane order to lock her in her room does not prevent the curse from taking effect. She pricks her finger and Maleficent is determined to break the curse, but can it be done?
Does Maleficent really believe she will be able to lift the curse by bringing the prince to the bedside of her darling so-called daughter?
She tries to take back her curse, no longer only two options, good and bad, that are so simplistic, through a child’s eyes; black and white turns to grey.
She has found the stranger from the woods and brings him to the castle and to the sleeping Aurora. The scene builds to a climactic moment, after the more modern hesitation from the young prince, questioning whether he should kiss a girl he has just met.
Everything has been leading up to this. HE finds himself by the sleeping princess’s bedside. They wait with bated breath and you think this is the moment of the movie, the whole point.
Kissing someone without their consent, having not met more than once as he points out, suddenly also becomes something else, becomes more, like an invasion of personal space.
I won’t spoil the next part, in case I have, invariably, convinced you to watch this movie, because in spite of the issues I have with it, in case you couldn’t tell, I think you should.
Maleficent does feel the sorrow of what she has done to her precious Aurora. She admits that she can not be forgiven for it, because what she has done to the poor child is unforgivable, all that time she was so lost with seeking revenge and in hatred. This, perhaps, is the repentance you wouldn’t expect from an evil power like Maleficent, the kind of repentance the king can not realize.
By her bedside she declares:
“I swear no harm will come to you as long as I live and not a day shall pass that I don’t miss your smile.”
The epic climactic battle does not happen in the way you might remember it. It’s the heart of King Stephan, once touched by his feelings for the young Maleficent, that has turned cold and hard. He is beyond all help or hope. He has grown mad in those feelings of hatred and revenge, the same ones Maleficent fought so hard against, they have won out in him..
There is one final, dramatic point, a battle between Maleficent and King Stefan, involving a dragon, and true love does win out, but at a cost. The characters you might expect to end up happily aren’t necessarily the ones who do, but this story is a fairy tale, still grounded in reality and with a more modern touch.
The narrator, which I like very much because she has helped me to understand the story, sums it all up in a beautiful and satisfying manner. All along this invisible voice of the story is someone you may not have guessed.
Angelina Jolie is the star of this whole retelling and her role of Maleficent is one of the best of her career, in this lowly reviewer’s opinion.
This is no longer the sweet little fairy tale of my youth. The lessons are plentiful, on greed and envy, jealousy and revenge, true love and cruelty. The two worlds are so different and it is a constant struggle, a battle at times, to see if the two worlds can get along and live happily side by side.
Like most stories, the humans are the greedy ones, fearing magic and seeking to take its power.
Good and evil, black and white are no longer at the heart of it. This is a nice follow-up piece to the original Disney version of Sleeping Beauty, made fifty-five years earlier.
The three good fairies I loved so much, the pixies of this film, are the things I like least in this version. The one whose supposedly evil and her bird/wolf/man are my favourite characters.
My feelings were constantly on a roller coaster, from start to finish of this film. I hurt and I smiled. I would give Angelina’s performance a 5 out of 5, while the rest of the movie I would give a solid 4 for its fairy tale style, mixed with its modern-day themes.
In the end, it’s the true love in the unlikely relationship between Maleficent and Aurora that is the nice surprise of this film, true love between the two you never, on watching the original, would have guessed. This alteration in this updated version was a bewildering one and yet, a sweet change in direction of plot and story.
The true love of a man does not always have to be the answer, but it still ends up rounding out the story rather sweetly.
For you true love fans, you romantic fairy tale lovers who cling to childhood ideals like myself, it is nice to see.
So apparently we did not know this particular favourite of mine quite as well as we, or at least, as well as I thought I did. This was an unexpected surprise, and a mostly pleasant one at that.
It ends happily ever after, as a fairy tale is supposed to. The Moors become a bright beautiful place once more.
The kingdoms unify and Princess Aurora is crowned Queen, having been the narrator all along.
The two kingdoms are at peace with one another, in the end:
“Brought together not by hero or villain as legend predicted. But by both.”
That is what makes Maleficent and indeed the actress who plays her so spellbinding and what made all the other little annoyances I felt throughout worth watching.
Of course I can’t write this review without highlighting the musical tone provided for this film, by the haunting voice of Lana Del Ray: