Cinderella is a classic folktale written by French author Charles Perrault, which was originally titled ‘Cendrillon’ and has been passed throughout generations by the medium of storytelling and fairytales. Cinderella’s story was adapted as a full-length animated movie by Disney Animation Studios in 1950, followed by the live-action adaption of Cinderella in 2015 by the same company. Disney’s version of storytelling in animated movies and live-action movies leaves an enchanting effect on the viewers through elements of “timeless narrations, unforgettable characters and their stories, setting of stories, context and finally, the incorporation of architecture in the movies”. This paper shall discuss and analytically deconstruct the narrative of history presented in the Cinderella 2015 live-action movie and summarize how the setting and narrative that surrounds the characters builds a relation between time and space, and the built form and architectural context of the existing record of history of that particular space and time period.
Cinderella (2015) – The Story
Ella, the protagonist, is a loving, caring and selfless young girl who has a close bond with her birth parents, and believes in “having courage and being kind”, a secret that her mother leaves to her (Branagh, 2015, 00:05:25 & 00:29:30). Her father is a merchant, and is often busy with domestic and international trading works, and is seen composing letters to different officers and merchants, whereas her mother is a housewife, busy doing chores with housemaids. The family, despite being wealthy, lives with humility and gratitude for what they’ve been blessed with in their lives. In childhood, her mother passes away due to an incurable disease. When she turns 16, her father approaches her to seek her consent to remarry another woman, Lady Tremaine (antagonist) and accept her two daughters Anastasia and Drisella (antagonists) as her stepsisters, to which Ella wholeheartedly agrees. He dies after a business trip, which gives Lady Tremaine an enormous chance to take over his wealth and expose her cruel and heartless nature to Ella by burdening her with all housechores and forcing her to shift her sleeping space from her own bedroom to a ‘dark and dingy’ attic on highest floor. She is bullied by her stepsisters and mockingly nicknamed ‘Cinderella’ because she works near the cinders and the smoke from their stains her face (Branagh, 2015, 00:25:02). Sick and tired of her step-family’s abuse, Ella seeks temporary escape for herself in the forest where she meets the crown prince named Kit, who introduces. Kit develops a fondness for Ella and after returning to the grand palace, convinces his widowed father to hold a grand ball at the royal palace and invite all the princesses and maidens in the kingdom, so he can meet the mysterious girl he met in the forest i.e. Ella. Lady Tremaine and her daughters, after hearing the news, put all workload on Ella and ban her from attending the ball. At night, the Fairy Godmother appears magically to help the heartbroken and mentally shattered Ella, by turning a pumpkin in the plant house into a gold-covered luxurious gold-colored carriage, her pet mice into horses, goose into a coachman, and two lizards into footmen. And most importantly, she transforms Ella’s torn dress into an ‘elegant, unique and iconic blue gown’, adorned by butterflies on sleeves and glitter on frills (Branagh, 2015,00:50:02 – 00:50:41), and Ella’s shoes into ‘glass slippers’ with the surface of glimmering diamonds (Branagh, 2015, 00:51:27 – 00:51:34). The magic spell only lasts till midnight, so within that time frame, Ella attends the ball, meets the prince once again, dances with him in the ballroom, gets a golden chance to see his favorite secret spot in the royal garden; yet leaves without introducing herself to him, and forgets her glass slipper on the staircase. The next day, it is formally announced in the entire kingdom that whoever maiden’s foot fits in the glass slipper shall marry the crown prince. All the maidens of the kingdom gather around, desperately trying to fit their feet into the slipper but they all fail. Only Lady Tremaine’s house is left in the end, as it is located on a countryside far away from the town. Tremaine, overpowered with ‘hatred, deceit and jealousy’ for Ella’s kind heart and beauty, locks her in the attic to prevent her from meeting the prince. She fails, because outside the house, Prince and his subjects hear Ella singing ‘Lavender’s Blue’ (a 17th century nursery rhyme) and decide to investigate further. Finally, Prince Kit meets Ella and she wears the glass slipper on his request, which obviously fits her delicate feet. Kit is jubilant and joyous because his intuition about Ella turned out right; that she is indeed the “courageous and kind” mystery girl he has been looking for the whole time. This gives Ella a chance to leave her abusive household peacefully and live a better life with Kit. They both get married and as the fairytale goes… “they lived happily ever after”.
Earliest recorded citations imply that this story of “misery transformed into fortunes” is as old as its manuscripts from the Greek civilization, but the worldwide-recognized version in the form of Cinderella was published in 1670’s till 1700’s, meaning that with reference to existing records, “Cinderella’s” origins can be traced back to that particular time period of history in late 1690’s and early 1700’s, when culture, traditions, politics, economy, domestic lifestyle etc. were much different compared to the era we’re living in currently. The case is similar for animated and live-action Cinderella movies produced by Disney, which follow similar time period and reflect same customs and traditions followed by society that is described in Charles Perrault’s iterated version. As Perrault was French, the most recognized version of Cinderella was initially published in French language, but as the legacy of this story circulated throughout the globe, this story was also being published in other languages that were used as medium of communication across other countries. Considering during 1690’s till 1700’s when Baroque revolution was taking place throughout Europe, which resulted in similar government policies, trade and commerce, architectural styles, traditions, ethics etc. being practiced across European land, it’s challenging to trackback which country or city Cinderella’s story took place in, because many sources cite that her story could’ve taken place in either England, France, Italy, Germany, Russia or any other European country.
The Deconstructive Analysis
As a part of deconstructive analysis, it is important to acknowledge that in the movie, occurrence of specific kinds of architecture types e.g. Gothic, Baroque, Rococo etc. and its relation with the contextual placement of story is as abstract as the origins of “space and exact location of city/country” where the story took place, leading to certain elements from different eras appearing amalgamated together if we consider architecture of buildings used for film-shooting in the movie as a reference. From perspective of 2015 live-action adaptation of Cinderella by Disney Studios, the overall city square, narrative of the protagonist, societal norms depicted in the movie, customs and traditions, interiors, colors, lighting techniques inside and outside building, materiality, political structure, modes of transport etc. can be used as a reference to justify that events occurring in the movie indeed took place within time period of 1670’s to 1700’s in the area of Europe.
The kingdom is “a power rising above the seashores, within the heart of mountains, draped with the beauty of green”. The movie illustrates a magnificent scenario of a small kingdom that’s surrounded by mountains with diversity of flora and fauna above the sea. Terrains extend vastly and are highlighted by a network of transport system, with some roads near the cliffs. Transitions between certain scenes are shown by emphasizing on the sillhuouette of mountains during sunrise and sunset (Branagh, 2015, 01:16:54). Structures like Palace, City, countryside, and forest all are zoned separately but interconnected through a travelling infrastructure of widespread roadways. Representative colors of the kingdom shown in the movie are blue and yellow. These colors are seen and subtly replicated on many occasions in the movie, for example in half-blue-half-yellow uniforms of royal soldiers (Branagh, 2015, 00:32:34), wallpapers of halls and rooms, official flags on ships (Branagh, 2015, 01:19:39) etc. When compared to current times, there are many countries using blue and yellow as their signature colors, but in the movie the ‘order’ with which the colors of the kingdom’s representative flag is used is the reason why the kingdom’s flag is unique in its space and time and is a product of creative imagination, and cannot be used as reference to backtrack the location where the events mentioned in movie might have possibly happened.
Ella’s home is her “sanctuary in a countryside” which she treasures deeply. It is located away from the town’s hustle and bustle in the middle of the forest. Only a handful few are able to afford such housing scheme, which justifies the fact that Ella’s father was a wealthy merchant of his time who could afford a separate house for his family far from the town. The set for this house was designed and used in Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire in UK. It is a double-storey stone masonry house with different levels i.e. the attic is three floors above the ground led by a dark stone staircase. The entrance within the plot boundary first leads to a glass-house of plants, few meters distant from the house. Inside the house, creamy yellow wallpapers are covered with floral patterns and a swan chandelier hangs in the centre of the reception ceiling. Bronze cutlery and utensil items are used in kitchen housechores. Black Park in Buckinghamshire, UK is the location used for the forest that surrounds the house where Ella first meets Prince Kit for the first time, who introduces himself as an ‘apprentice’. As this location is close to Pinewood Film Studios, it was a precise match for filming forest scenes in the film.
The Royal Palace
The majestic grandeur is welcomed in the movie as the Crown Prince’s home – the Royal Palace, inspired by the ‘Zwinger’ of Dresden in Germany, a magnificence of Baroque and Rococo era’s stone embellishments and green rooftops. The location was suitable for Palace in Cinderella movie because of its affiliation with Rococo and Baroque architecture – extravagant ornaments, ornate gold carvings, exquisite paintings on ceilings and walls, emphasis on curvilinearity, fluidity and movement, a prodigious union of Gothic, Renaissance and Classical architectural elements since Baroque was introduced as a profound style reflective of the orthodox Catholic Church’s power, and Rococo was is exageratedly-ornamented successor. Zwinger was originally a military training ground in 1200’s and it was surrounded by an enclosed fortification erected to protect the city from attacks during Hussite wars in 1420’s. The building’s construction, unlike the context of the fortified ground, started in 1700’s when Baroque and Rococo styles were reminiscent in the Catholic architecture.
Unlike the interior for certain locations, the outer elevation of the Royal Palace and the scenic beauty is 3D-rendered in certain spaces – first and second floors were introduced in 3D-modelling and certain walls were curved to express the Rococo magnificence for the Palace. The ornamentation, carvings, curvilinear form, adorned pillars, statues on top of Classical-inspired pillars are an implication of the power of rulers and the political structure of that time, who would have invested their entire wealth to exhibit their status among different kingdoms of Europe. The absolutes of that era are dictated by their delicate and grand forms of structures, considering that architecture of that period played an important role to reflect the objective that size, volume and intricacy of a form is synonymous with power and position of the ruling body, which clarifies why the Royal Palace in the film is built so majestic compared to town buildings or countryside structures, to express the authority of the ruling body over the kingdom. Although filming locations were used for functions like palace, town square or residential plots, no religious-affiliated structures like any Catholic church of Baroque time-period were shown throughout the entire film.
The Royal Palace is surrounded by breathtaking gardens whose filming location was the English-perpendicular Gothic and Renaissance-inspired Hampton Court Palace, on whose regal stone staircase, Ella loses her crystal-esque glass slipper in the climax of the story. Ella’s interaction with the staircase is the biggest turning point of the story which leads to saving her life from her abusive household and officially becoming the crowned queen of the royal kingdom by marrying Kit, later becoming the renouned crowned king. The physical interaction of Ella losing her glass slipper on the stone staircase is one of the most glorified moments of the story.
The lengthy walkway in Windsor Great Park that leads to Windsor castle (previously King Edward’s court) is utilized as the path leading to Royal Palace’s grand entrance, and is used in a scene where all the maidens of kingdom are invited to the Palace in a long line to fit their feet in Ella’s glass slipper, hoping any of them gets a chance to marry the Prince, but all fail. The Old Royal Navy College in Greenwich, England was used as one of the locations for the movie, in the fencing scene between Prince Kit and the royal subjects inside the palace.
The enchanting moments of Ella and Kit’s dance scene in the Royal Ball, and settings for emotional and personal scenes between Prince Kit and his father, the King were all set and filmed in Pinewood Studios. The interplay of contrast at different intervals of this movie is what elevates the enchanting effect upon its viewers. The significance of gold ornamentation thoughout Palace interiors helps Ella’s magical blue gown gleam against the gold aura of the building. The entire emphasis and attention is on Ella during the Royal Ball, because the striking contrast with gold interiors compliments her unique gown, it helps her be prominent amongst all the maidens of the kingdom in the royal ball. (Branagh, 2015, 01:02:00)
In the palace it is shown how manual labour is required to lift heavy objects through an extensive pulley system. In a scene that features an artisan live-painting a royal portrait of Prince Kit (Branagh, 2015, 00:34:21), the canvas is larger in scale compared to human scale, so a movable bench made of wood seating and ropes on pulleys is used to carry the artisan up at certain height to paint the Prince’s face on canvas. In another scene that showcases preparation for the Grand Ball in the Palace Hall, the chandeliers are lowered to ground by pulleys and all the candles are lit in it manually, and then moved back towards the ceiling carefully (Branagh, 2015, 00:53:31). This shows how lighting issues and moving above floor level were solved by manual labour in that era and can establish a comparison between how labour is completed through machineries nowadays compared to then.
The Town Square
The town square shown in the movie was filmed in Pinewood studios, where all stone masonry buildings were designed and arranged as a set in the studio. The central square is used as an public space where King’s guards and messengers come to deliver royal announcements to the public. Residential double-storey houses and marketplace are bult adjacent to each other to minimize walking and travelling distance. The marketplace is where food, grains, bread, bakery, clothes, household items, bronze and silver cutlery etc. are sold. The town is located away from the the Palace and Ella’s home. The town square is amongst the locations where royal guards went to search for the maiden in whose foot the glass slipper fits. It’s an indicator that search for Ella, ‘the mystery girl’ whom Prince Kit fell in love with in the Royal Ball, was done literally everywhere in the kingdom.
Cinderella is a story of transformation of ‘rags into riches’ through determination, bravery and kindness, whose foundations are centered around the life story of the characters and their interaction with physical spaces in the manifested space of the story. In the eras of 1600’s till 1700’s the customs and traditions demanded women of that particular society to fit into societal standards of submission to authority without any external support system provided by the rulers. Ella had become an orphan and understood the abusive circumstances around herself, and accepted them as long as she had food and shelter. Had she rebeled against her evil stepmother, she would have landed homeless in the streets and quite possibly even faced death. So she worked smartly and with patience until she found perfect opportunity to escape the abuse system in her household i.e. through maintaining good relations with Prince Kit after meeting him in the woods. Her physical interactions with the architectural aspects in the film like dropping her glass slipper on the staircase add charm to the turning point of her luck and save her from her stepmother’s wrath in coming years.
- Barron, Kinberg, Shearmur. (Producers), & Branagh, K. (Director). (2015). Cinderella [Motion Picture]. United Kingdom : Pinewood Studios.
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- Architecture | Old Royal Naval College. Retrieved from: https://www.ornc.org/architecture
- Christa Thompson, (February 10, 2015) A Look at Cinderella Film Locations, England #CinderellaEvent. Retrieved from: https://thefairytaletraveler.com/2015/02/10/cinderella-film-locations/