Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB
United Kingdom, 1976. Paradine Co-Productions. Screenplay by Bryan Forbes, Robert B. Sherman, Richard M. Sherman, based on the story Cendrillon by Charles Perrault. Cinematography by Tony Imi. Produced by Stuart Lyons. Music by Angela Morley. Production Design by Ray Simm. Costume Design by Julie Harris. Film Editing by Timothy Gee. Academy Awards 1977. Golden Globe Awards 1976.
There are more cinematic interpretations of the classic Charles Perrault fairy tale than one can keep track of, but it’s hard to believe that a comprehensive survey would result in this one rating very high among them. Shot in glorious widescreen in magnificent locations and with an impressive cast, it’s a strangely ineffective experience bogged down by wooden direction by Bryan Forbes and a wholly unmemorable song score by the Sherman Brothers (of Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks fame). Richard Chamberlain plays the prince of a long-ago kingdom whose parents are concerned by his unwed status and long for him to make a match that will secure the country’s future. Within his own land, the house of an aristocrat is mourning the loss of a man whose second wife (played in her final film role by the great Margaret Lockwood) barely comes home from his funeral before relegating her stepdaughter Cinderella (Gemma Craven) to housemaid status to serve her and her own spoiled and idiotic daughters. The poor young woman struggles to keep up with her many chores, saved from her stepmother’s ire by the appearance of a fairy godmother (Annette Crosbie) who casts a magical spell or two to keep our heroine out of trouble. When the palace decides to throw a magnificent ball in order to put the prince in the way of as many eligible young ladies as the planet can provide, fairy godmother steps in to make sure Cinderella also has a nice enough dress and vehicular escort to make an appearance and win the man’s heart. The title is the first head scratcher of this very dull film, as it’s hard to remember what role the rose plays in the story, but there’s also other weird choices like the fact that it mostly eschews almost all manner of enchantment (there are no talking mice) but keeps the magic of Crosbie’s character, dispenses of the villainess quite without letting the stepmother’s downfall be in any way climactic (and in doing so, wastes the effort of Lockwood’s wonderful performance) and adds extra drama to the end involving Cinderella’s fitness to marry the prince that is in no way dramatic (or bearable, actually). Two and a half hours is a long time to spend with a film that attempts to fill in the moments between the points of the story that we already know so well, particularly as the years since have provided so much better in the much more effective “realism” of Ever After and the spot-on magic of Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 version. It doesn’t help that Craven makes very little impression in the lead role and Chamberlain appears wholly uninspired, while Crosbie is the only bright spot, giving a hilarious, witty performance with a self-reflective edge (she is so exhausted from having to be fairy godmother to all the fairy tale heroines) but is unfortunately not on screen enough to save the operation.