Kenneth Branagh On The Power Of Fairy Tales

“[Fairy tales] have the virtue of appearing very simple … but they always catch us by surprise with their emotional power.”
E. Stephen Burnett | Mar 16, 2015 | 1 comment |


Cinderella released in the U.S. on March 13, and director Kenneth Branagh’s live-action adaptation of the Disney animated feature is getting positive reviews.

Here’s what the director has to say about his respect for fantastical stories:

I acknowledge that, as snarky as I can be with the best of them, I am not in that post-modernist permanently ironic groove as it were when it comes to my filmmaking. … We are affectionate for [fairy tales] because they appear not to be dressed up too much in morality. They are, but they have the virtue of appearing very simple — and some people might feel even simplistic — but they always catch us by surprise with their emotional power.

… I think we love the escapism of something like Cinderella and I think we do with Thor. And as long as we can believe that there is a connection between us and a bunch of guys riding on horses across a rainbow bridge in space and somehow connected to the Norse myths, we get the adventure, we get the escape, we get the immersion in another world that’s different from ours so we’re really happy to go to a big darkened room to see that. And with Cinderella, I felt that that invitation to be immersed in a vibrant, glamorous, highly colored world was really important as a sensory experience. A feast for the senses, but at the middle of it, people we can sort of see in the mirror.1

In another interview, Branagh shares his view of human strength through trial, a vision that should sound familiar to biblical Christians. (This vision is also apparently alien to the few negative reviewers of the film who claim that Cinderella’s whole-hearted pursuit of courage and kindness isn’t cool enough.)

We set the film in a classical framework and looks like you might expect a fairytale to look — very lavish and opulent — and have things that you’d expect Cinderella to have like mice that turn into horses and a pumpkin-turned-carriage, and a ball.

… Yet, it also has a girl not passively awaiting the arrival of a man who is simply choosing to be a victim of fate; but someone who deals with her challenges, and the cruelty and the ignorance that she’s subject to by being aware of other people. That in a way is a way to deal with your own problems — to think of someone else. She does that with humor, and she does so with passion.

… It doesn’t make her weak and it doesn’t make her passive, nor does it make her pious and self-righteous. She stumbles and she falls, like we all do, but ultimately her self-belief and her belief in the power of love is really her all-powerful way of living.2

Anti-postmodernism/”irony”-veneration, affection, passion, simplicity, morality, emotional power, classical, old-fashioned, justice and peace through courage and kindness, human stumbling, power of love … hmm.

(Stands with arms outstretched, facing the East)

Aslan, Aslan, Aslan. Please let Kenneth Branagh direct all or most of any future “Narnia” film adaptations.

  1. Kenneth Branagh Interview: Cinderella, Thor and More!, Don Kaye at Den of Geek, March 12, 2015.
  2. Interview: Kenneth Branagh talks direction of live-action ‘Cinderella’, Tim Lammers at, undated 2015 article.
E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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Julie D

I know he’s famous for Shakespeare adaptations, but this actually excites me more about Cinderella than anything else so far.