Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Hello Again, Cinderella!

That cherished fairytale is back, defying time, technology and the age of terror. The delight is boundless amongst children of all ages and critics of all predilections. Its instinct for clarity, conciseness and an unerring flair for the truly dramatic, suspenseful and romantic, a fairytale is a branch of letters or folk tale that has long been treasured and fostered as part of a general cultural heritage. Such elements endow a fairytale with immortality, and so it is with Cinderella.

Its aesthetic pleasure has inspired hundreds of versions from every part of the globe, and here it comes again in to enchant us anew, stir our imagination and sprinkle a little magic.

The quality of the cast, director, writer and panoramic spectacle are unprecedented. It would have made Walt Disney himself proud. This new live-action version from the Disney Studios comes 64 years after the first animated version of 1950, which is ranked ninth greatest animated film of all time.

Slated for a March 13 opening worldwide, it had viewers applauding and cheering with glee. The cast was handpicked as if by magic.  Lily James of “Downton Abbey” is the enchanting Cinderella; Richard Madden of “Game of Thrones,” the dashing Prince Charming, the two-time Oscar nominee Helen Bonham Carter is the fumbling, inexperienced fairy godmother and the two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett is the fierce stepmother.

As for director Sir Kenneth Branagh, if you please, a four-time Oscar nominee, one can hardly control one’s enthusiasm about his gifts as an actor, writer anddirector. Knighted by Queen Elisabeth in 2012 on her Diamond Jubilee, no other Brit deserves more honour.

Her Majesty has held a special admiration for this multi-talented artist since she first saw his performance as Hamlet at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) when he was only 19.  The role became his trademark and he was dubbed the next Olivier.

Like a master potter, Branagh wields every tale and every performance with his distinctive, enigmatic style, creating a unique and unforgettable piece of art.  Known for his Shakespearean productions on stage and screen, a fairytale did not seem to be his forte, but a story is a story and Branagh can tell a story like no other.  He is fearless, combining Hitchcock’s chills with Cameron’s thrills, and the result is a refreshingly traditional tale, so breathtaking that will blow you away, no matter what your age is.

What is it about that timeless masterpiece that has engaged generations not for hundreds but for thousands of years? Cinderella, the archetypal name of the fairytale is the story of the persecuted heroine, who is finally rewarded. This familiar theme has reverberated throughout history, since classical antiquity!

Some are familiar with the Brothers’ Grimm version “Ashenputtel”, (Ash-fool), while others argue that it was written by Charles Perrault in 1637, as “Cendrillon” or “Le petit pantoufle vert.” Italians may object as Giambatista Basile wrote “Ceenerentola” in i634.  Why, even in “A Thousand and One Nights” the same story pops up in “The Anklet”, a substitute for the slipper.

Folklorists have long studied the fable and produced 345 variants to this captivating tale of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Why? Because it is life! Consider the Royal House of Windsor, for example.

Yet who amongst us knew that the earliest version of this eternal legend comes from ancient Egypt?  In the 1st century BC Greek geographer and historian Strabo (c. 63 BC-24 AD), recorded in his Geographica the tale of a slave girl, Rhodopis (Rosey-Eyes), who lived in the colony of Naucrates, a dominion of Egypt.

While she was bathing, an eagle snatched one of her sandals, carried it to Memphis and flung it on the King’s lap. Stirred, the king sent his men far and wide to find the woman to whom the sandal belonged. Rhodopis was brought to Memphis and the slave girl became the king’s wife.

That ancient tale also has several variations.  It was told earlier by the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-424 BC), and later by the Roman author Claudius Aelianus (c. 175-235 AD). And what a tale to tell! There are versions of the Cinderella motif from China, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam and almost every other part of the world. It stimulates every imagination swiftly, intensely and aesthetically.

It is therefore no wonder that such a sweeping epic was the basis of 20 operas and ballets by such composers as Giacomo Rossini, Sergei Profofiev, Jules Massenet, Johann Straus and hundreds of stage and film versions. The first film by Georges Melies in 1899, was seven minutes long. Hollywood’s first attempt starred Mary Pickford in 1914. A pantomime debuted strongly in London at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1904.

Here comes the newest version more brilliant, more dazzling, more extravagant than any other. Similar to the beloved Disney cartoon, it is originally based on the popular Charles Perrault version (1637). The ball gown alone was made with a dozen fine layers of fabric. Nine versions were made using 270 yards, 10,000 crystals, 18 tailors and 500 hours to make each gown. Swarowski provided seven million crystals to add to the spectacular splendor of the royal ball.

The strength of the Disney brand is as strong as ever, and in the hands of the able Branagh another magical spell has been added to this eternal story of love, which continues to influence every culture. It is the dream immortal.

“Beauty is a treasure, but graciousness is priceless. Without it, nothing is possible. With it one can do anything.”

Charles Perrault (1628-1703).

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