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British Film Review: Trap for Cinderella
by Garrett Hunter
Trap for Cinderella is based on the 1963 French novel of the same name (trans. Piège pour Cendrillon) by Sébastien Japrisot. It follows a woman, Micky (Tuppence Middleton), who wakes up badly burned after a fire in which her best friend, Do (Alexendra Roach), had died. It is at the fire where the film opens, and around it which the story pivots, examining its consequences and using flashback to explore its conspiratorial causes.
The opening scenes are nicely executed and promise a movie based on a well thought-out script and artistic direction; trees sway hauntingly in the wind (heralding the coming storm), we see the opulent villa (serving to establish the motive - good old-fashioned greed), the flickering candle (a detail to be paid-off in the final scenes), and the explosion. Cut-to a young woman being rushed along a hospital corridor, surgeons scalpels (and lasers) making their repairs and by the time the credit sequence ends we have a good idea of the genre we are entering.
We are set for a thriller; a story about a girl who was burnt in a fire and in trying to discover who she is she manages to uncover a dark secret and a sinister conspiracy, all of which involve money and murder - so far so good.
The opening promise, sadly, begins to fall away before long and by 20-minutes-in the reasons why are becoming evident. For one it is difficult to be overly concerned by the problems Micky has. OK, she has total amnesia and she would like to know who she is and was. But clearly she is lucky to be alive at all, and what a life it could be, as the heiress to a large fortune. Add to this her knowledge she was engulfed in flames yet emerged looking rather stunning and it difficult to see what her real problem is. Will someone please book me into an exploding villa in the south of France if I can come out looking this good. A tad cynical perhaps, the heroine quite oft looks good, and Tuppence Middleton probably can’t help herself in this regard, but as the first act of this drama comes to a close a greater hook is called for, a stronger central question required. The lack of one, one which the audience might really care about, has the effect of flat-lining the story, and the film never really recovers from this.
Micky’s recuperation is aided by Julia (Kerry Fox), the personal assistant to her billionaire aunt Elinor (Frances de la Tour). It would be nice to say Julia’s sinister motives were a surprise-reveal later in the story, but Fox is not given much to work with here and Julia is played cartoon style - she’s a baddie and we know it from her first scowling appearance. Good thrillers do not do this, they put the audience to work and the lack of attention played to Julia’s character - she is the films antagonist after all - is fatal.
There are positives; both leads, Tuppence Middleton and Alexendra Roach, can light up the screen and both do a good job here. Do is a convincing wall-flower to Micky’s manic effervescence, and her subtle shift from adoration to obsession is deftly handled. Micky appears suitably traumatised and lost by her ordeal yet exudes a wild-child energy always waiting to burst forth from beneath her beautifully repaired skin. Focusing on their relationship is important but this comes at the expense of the other characters in the story, resulting in them being very lightly sketched. Whilst this may be necessary in some cases, in Julia’s it is a mistake as she never materialises in a form which might give rise to any real conflict.
There are of course time constraints, the writer must tell the story economically, but I lost sympathy when, just at the moment the tension should have been cranked-up, we cut away from the story to include what looked and sounded like a Natalie Imbruglia video (nothing against Nat, but there’s a time and a place). This is effectively what Softley does with the scenes of Micky and Do driving to the South of France to the accompaniment of a ‘pop’ soundtrack. Take this scene out and replace it with some further information on Julia’s character, her sinister plan, and how she ultimately aimed to benefit from it, and the film as a whole would improve.
The film works in parts. There are some excellent scenes in a complex tale and the overall feeling is of disappointment that it didn't quite come off. Softley will make bigger and better. He already has excellent credentials with credits including the Beatles film Backbeat (1994), Hackers (1995), The Wings of the Dove (1997), K-PAX (2001), The Skeleton Key (2005) and Inkheart (2008). However his script here may highlight the difficulties in adapting a multi layered and introspective novel for the screen.
Sébastien Japrisot was himself an accomplished scriptwriter and film director; yet he did not attempt to adapt this particular story for the screen. Perhaps he realised that more than a trap for Cinderella this may also prove to be a trap for the adaptive screenwriter.
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