Hayley Atwell: Cinderella isn’t about a woman being saved by a man

Kenneth Branagh's film is a "much more modern, in-depth and up-to-date take on what Cinderella is," says the Agent Carter star

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Cinderella might be remembered as the classic tale of a girl being saved by a handsome (and hugely wealthy) prince on a white steed, but Kenneth Branagh’s live-action remake doesn’t follow tradition, says star Hayley Atwell. 

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“It’s a slightly different meaning. Ken made it very clear that he didn’t feel that Cinderella was about the man saving her. It is a woman saving herself through being courageous and kind,” Atwell tells us. “But she’s stuck within the dynamics of the way society was run at the time.” 

“There are many, many, many faults in a lot of the earlier films,” Atwell continues, talking about the Disney princesses of the last century. “[They] were only reflecting the time. But that’s starting to change.”

“Now we have Frozen which is about self love and love of a sister. It’s slowly changing as the audience’s perception of society is changing. This is a much more modern, in-depth and up-to-date take on what Cinderella is.” 

Atwell, who is currently starring as Marvel’s Agent Carter on US TV screens, appears in the retold fairytale as Cinderella’s mother. Her part is small – as we all know, Ella’s mother dies when she’s a child – yet vital to the story. 

“The whole experience was quite magical really,” she says. “Kenneth Branagh’s such an actor’s director. He sat me down and although I was only in it for two weeks he was like: ‘Why did you call her Ella?’, ‘Where did you meet your husband?’, ‘What is it that you suffer from?’, ‘What is your greatest wish for your daughter?’. He really created a backstory and that moved the focus from my own self-consciousness and my own fear onto what I wanted to do and what I wanted to create with him.” 

Of whether she felt pressure taking on such an internationally beloved fable, Atwell said being busy kept her mind off it: “I was doing The Pride in the West End. We’d opened and I was filming during the day for two weeks and then I’d rush home from Pinewood to do the play. I had so much going on that I didn’t have time to worry or think too much about the pressure. I just had to treat it like a job like any other.” 

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Cinderella is in UK cinemas 27th March