I don’t write about films that often–I’m much more of a reader than a film watcher, after all–but how can I resist telling you about Disney’s new Cinderella? What can be better than a good and beautiful girl, a handsome and noble prince, and a happy ending?

Visually, it’s stunning. Of course. Disney, I think it’s safe to assume, has the money to do what they want in that area. The palace, the dresses, the magic–gorgeous.

As for the storyline, the joy is that they’ve kept it classic. They haven’t made it darker. They haven’t made it inappropriate. In short, they’ve been wise enough to know that if something’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it. Rather than changing a much-loved tale, they’ve concentrated on telling it well.

I particularly appreciated how well-nuanced the characters are. Here, perhaps, they’ve made a few alterations, but if so, it’s for the better. Cinderella herself is as sweet and innocent as you’d expect her to be, and yet–without in any way making her some sort of fairytale feminist–they’ve also ensured that she’s not a doormat. She doesn’t stay with her horrid step-family because she’s content to be abused. She stays–however hard it is–because she promised her parents she would care for her home. She’s sweet, but underneath that sweetness is strength, not weakness. And that’s admirable.

In this version, Cinderella and the prince accidentally meet in the woods prior to the ball, when he’s hunting. The prince tells Ella he’s an apprentice (“an apprentice king”, he has to clarify later at the ball–ah yes, that does make a bit of a difference…..), which means, as a review I read pointed out, that Ella doesn’t fall in love with him for mercenary reasons, since she gets a chance to meet him when she thought he was just an ordinary guy (though really, Ella dear, what apprentice dresses like that?)

That same scene also gives the prince a more substantial reason to love Ella than merely her breathtaking beauty at the ball. He sees something of her kindness and her courage, and that attracts him too. I’m so glad they did it that way.

As for the prince himself, he’s more substantial too. We see him mature in the course of the film. I love his words to Ella when they finally find each other after soldiers have been shoving her glass slipper on the feet of women all over the country: “Will you take me as I am,” she asks, “an honest country girl who loves you?”, to which he replies, “If you will take me as I am: an apprentice still learning his trade.”

I was also impressed by the way the wicked stepmother was portrayed. She’s certainly a nasty woman, but we know why she’s the way she is, and can even–gasp–feel sorry for her. And that’s important, because people act the way they act for a reason. That doesn’t excuse wrong behaviour, but it makes it more understandable, and it narrows the gap between us and “the baddies”. We’re not as different from them as we’d like to think.

In this post-modern culture, it’s a delight to see a film that portrays a world where there is real good and evil and where goodness–courage and kindness–does win in the end. A world that does contain sadness, but also a world that believes in happy endings. And a world where the heroine’s parting words to the villain are “I forgive you.”

I get two opposite feelings after encountering something like Cinderella. The world isn’t really like that, I remind myself. You’re not beautiful. You’re not going to be the belle of any ball or the sweetheart of any prince. Your life is dull and drab compared to that world. And in a sense, that’s absolutely true. Let’s be realistic here: I’m an ordinary girl living a fairly ordinary life and if I marry, it will be to an ordinary guy.

But then I remind myself that in another sense, our world is much more like the world of Cinderella than I give it credit for. It is full of beauty and wonder. Goodness will win the day. And every good fairytale is only a reflection of the incredible story God is writing, with the ultimate happy ending. It’s hard to believe that when I turn from the glamour of the screen to the frustrations of daily life. But Ella had her burdens too, and they only enriched her happy ending. Indeed, her happy ending would not have been possible without them.

So, yes: I loved it. So much so that SJ is going to humour me by accompanying me for–ahem–my second viewing later this week….





Why, Martin Luther, of course!

The other day SJ and I watched a film  based on the life of Martin Luther.  It’s been a while since I’ve read much about Luther’s life, so I can’t say how accurate it was down to the details. (Actually, I take that back: Wikipedia kindly provides a list of inaccuracies. So long as we can assume the writer or writers know what they’re talking about, all is well.) I did think Luther on screen was considerably better-looking than Luther would have been in real life, but that’s hardly surprising. More surprising was that that most famous of all phrases in Luther’s life, “the just shall live by faith” was not mentioned once. While the film shows clearly that Luther trusted in Christ alone for salvation, it’s a bit strange that what we, looking back, consider to be his life’s battle cry, was not included.

That being said, I appreciated the film very much. It was well produced and acted and it made me think. Rather than giving you a plot outline, let me share some thoughts that it prompted and that SJ and I chatted about.

One striking thing for me (and this may sound a bit silly) is seeing historical characters looking so, well, real, and in such real settings. To remember that they’re just like any other person today (if rather more strikingly dressed). It’s not that I suffer from any doubt, theoretically speaking, that people such as Luther were not real people, but I guess somehow I forget it on a more practical level. Even a book cannot give the vividness that a film can here. I’m more of a book person that a film person, but even with a book, these people can still feel far away and impersonal. With a film, the flesh-and-blood-ness is harder to forget. They’re people, just like us, who coughed and sneezed and laughed and hugged and hoped and dreamed and feared and had bad hair days and all the rest of it. All the humanity of it. Of them.

And when you really realise they’re really real (not to repeat my words or anything) then you can better see how brave they are, and wonder whether you could be that brave too. Of course, Luther at the Diet of Worms (such an unfortunate name) is brave, but what struck me was the German electors, who told the Emperor that sooner than give up their faith, they would kneel before him for him to cut off their heads—and kneel before him they did, man by man. The emperor didn’t take them up on their invitation, but that doesn’t negate their bravery. (Apparently all the electors kneeling is one of the inaccurate parts. Ah well—it makes a good film scene and makes me think all the same.)

Such bravery in the face of great opposition. How small my own problems are in comparison! Sure, I have hard things to deal with, but no one has threatened my life yet because of my faith. Not even close. I have it so easy.

I have to mention the sweetest part in the film, almost at the very end, when Luther thinks that his enemies are about to pounce on him. He turns to his wife and says, “I am so happy to have been loved by you, Katherine von Bora.” Isn’t that precious? He does not tell her he loves her, although undoubtedly he did. It’s not about what he’s done at all. He is simply glad that this woman has loved him. There seems a humility in that which touches me. The undeservedness of love.

(Two cautions if you’re considering watching this particular film: there are some unpleasant scenes of dead bodies after the peasants’ revolt and a brief scene of a martyr being burned. Also, one of the men looking at Luther’s 95 theses on the church door takes God’s name in vain.)

I am glad that I do not have to face Luther’s challenges. I am glad to be reminded of what he and other brave men and women faced and overcame.

We are in their debt.