Kathleen Turner plays the diabolically wicked and murderous stepmother with campy abandon in the Cinderella (2000) film you may have never heard of. The movie premiered on Bravo back in 2000 and received favorable reviews but never became a mainstream hit. But now that it’s available on Amazon Prime Video, the film can finally get the audience it deserves.
In this adaptation, the story of Cinderella (a character named Zezolla) takes place in an alternate version of 1950s England (it was filmed on the Isle of Man) and is, in some ways, bizarre. The director, Beeban Kidron (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason), makes interesting choices, some of which will not appeal to everyone.
So, let’s just get that out there:
This movie is not for everyone. And it may not be for you.
If you’re expecting any sort of realism, it’s probably not for you. Rather, expect to see a miscellany of pop art, music video style, mythology, Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, surrealism, post-modernism, and even a touch of Baz Luhrmann influence.
It’s not just various versions of the Cinderella fairy tale used as a resource either. Screenwriter, Nick Dear adds familiar elements from Beauty and the Beast, King Lear, Celtic Folklore, Gothic films, and more. Still, the film is odd yet enjoyable if you don’t mind the mishmash and post-modernist production design and visual effects.
Zezolla, a kind-hearted young woman who loves nature and animals, has her world torn upside down when her father marries Claudette. Her new wicked stepmother and her two daughters move into the house, only to turn her into a servant. Her father also treats Zezolla nearly as bad as her new step-family.
However, Zezolla finds solace in the company of Felim (Leslie Phillips), an elderly servant in the house. She also soon befriends his secret wife, a mermaid water nymph, named Mab (Jane Birkin).
Soon, Mab becomes her fairy godmother and helps her go to the ball. There, she meets the pop-singing Prince and falls in love. But will she be able to save her father from the murderous Claudette?
The Cast of Cinderella (2000)
Zezolla, played by Irish actress Marcella Plunkett (Once), gives an earthy, enchanting performance. She may be one of the best actresses to ever play Cinderella. She captures the innocence of the character as well as the empathy and strength needed to succeed in the role. But she also brings a magical, fairy-like quality to her. It’s as if she herself walked out of a fairy tale and into the film.
Besides Plunkett, Kathleen Turner steals the film as she plays the wicked stepmother to comical effect. She understands the strange tone and embraces it. If you watch this movie for any reason, watch for Turner’s farcical performance.
Ella Enchanted fans will recognize Lucy Punch playing a wicked stepsister again – albeit four years earlier. In total, she’s played this part four different times. And she’s always hilarious and perfect, so you’ll know what to expect.
In this version, she plays Regan, while Katrin Cartlidge plays the other wicked stepsister, Goneril. The two, named after King Lear characters, should give you an idea of the bizarre genre and story mashups going on in the movie.
The other supporting actors include David Warner (Titanic) as the father, Leslie Phillips (the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter) as Felim, Jane Birkin (Blow-Up) as the charming Mab, a mermaid-like fairy godmother, and Gideon Turner as Prince Valiant.
Unfortunately, not all of the characters are successful. Prince Valient doesn’t quite work as a character or as a romantic interest. He’s a whiny pop-star wannabe that feels more like Justin Bieber than Elvis or even an attractive member of NSYNC. But his character may appeal to the pre-teen and young teen audience. However, I personally couldn’t find the appeal. In one scene, he tries to catch Cinderella’s interest by singing to her onstage. It felt smarmy more than charming.
Still, the idea of the Prince being like a pop star is funny in and of itself. However, his bland personality and lack of characterization (he didn’t have much of a role until about halfway through the film) made him an uninteresting Prince leading to a somewhat ineffective romance. None of which is the fault of the actor. But Prince Valiant was harmless enough and it didn’t take much away from my enjoyment of the film.
The costume designer created breathtaking costumes to match Cinderella’s earthy quality and the mythical feel of the film, most notably with Zezolla’s blue ballgown and the beautiful necklace to match.
However, the director and costume designer did make some unusual choices. The film appears to take place in an alternate version of the 1950s but there’s no consistency with costume choices.
For much of the film, Zezolla dresses in what appears to be a Victorian-like dress. Her stepmother, Claudette, and two wicked stepsisters dress in more contemporary, neon fashions (some of the choices leaning on vulgar). The Queen’s costume appears influenced by Queen Elizabeth I. Whereas the Prince dresses like a 1950’s rock star cruising the kingdom on a motorcycle. It’s an unusual creative choice. Each character dresses to their personality rather than to a specific time or place.
Some audience members may love this choice, others may feel confused by it.
Cinderella (2000), is an interesting though flawed adaptation; an experimental film of sorts. While Plunkett and Turner relish their roles and play them to perfection, a few of the supporting characters disappear into the background – including Prince Valiant.
And while the cinematography is at times breathtaking, especially when the camera pans the gorgeous views of the Isle of Man, the visual effects don’t always succeed due to a small budget. A few shots of the castle look fake, for example. Though, to be fair, it’s hard to tell if this was due to budget constraints or was on purpose for style reasons.
But these issues are small – especially if you go into the movie realizing this is an indie film with a limited budget. The filmmaking team makes up for these restraints with their creativity.
Overall, Cinderella has a wonderful, inventive script and it’s an enjoyable fairytale escape worth your time – especially if you enjoy Celtic folklore and experimental films.
Content Note: TV-PG for innuendo.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video and Roku. You can also rent/buy on Digital or DVD.
Have you seen the Cinderella (2000) film? What did you think of this unique adaptation? Let me know in the comments!
Photo credit: Projector Pictures/Bravo