Dear Sandy Powell,
Your track record is pretty impressive. Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street, Shutter Island, The Other Boleyn Girl—not only are you a master of period films, you’ve also had the pleasure of measuring Leonardo DiCaprio’s inseam more than a few times (yeah, I’m jealous—who wouldn’t be?). But even with all of those films on your resume, bringing a fairy tale like Cinderella to life must feel like one of the biggest feats of your career.
Some might think that adapting a classic like this would make your job easier. But, boy, would they be wrong. Crafting a revival like this is hard work. You have to get it exactly right. Especially with a story as familiar as Cinderella: she’s the innocent girl with a pure heart forced to serve her stepmom and stepsisters, only to be transformed into a princess by her fairy godmother so she can meet her prince. Stroke of midnight, glass slippers—you know, Disney 101.
Luckily, you didn’t let the expectations stifle you. You met the challenge and managed to perfectly capture the magic and flamboyance of the story through the wardrobe you created, from duotone slim-cut jackets that make princes charming to the the fluid movement of Victorian-era gowns that turn lonely country girls into the belle of the ball. Later, when the wicked stepsisters showed up, they didn’t need to say a word to reveal their idiocy—the loud, jewel-encrusted clothing they wore told me everything I needed to know.
But it’s during ballroom scene, when the men and maidens hit the dance floor, that your strategic use of colour is most striking. Draping all the other guests in warm tones while Cinderella is wrapped in striking light blue fabric kept my eyes locked on her as she drifted through the sea of revellers was brilliant. No spotlight needed.
You and director Kenneth Branagh clearly used the 1950 version as a template for this live-action adaptation, but you managed to avoid turning it into yet another reimagining basted in unnecessary grittiness. I’ll admit, after Alice in Wonderland, Oz: The Great and Powerful, and Maleficent, it was refreshing to see a retelling that relied on the storybook enchantment that made the story popular in the first place. I don’t need to see Prince Charming riding a Harley and blasting fools with a sawed-off (or do I?). With live-action versions of The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Dumbo recently announced, I suspect there will be a creative tug-o’-war about which approach to take. If you happen to be involved in any of these upcoming movies, please do your best to steer them down the lighter path.
Ultimately, though, this film is good. Not great, but good. Hell, all I know is that it’s been years since I’ve seen the old animated version, and you made me remember what it was like to feel the bippity, the boppity, and most definitely the boo.
Have Courage and Be Kind,
PS. Oh, and I’m sorry to hear about the backlash surrounding Lily’s waistline. I for one really appreciated your use of the corset to achieve the kind of exaggerated hourglass figure usually only found in the realm of animation.