Think you know the tale of Cinderella? Well, not the way it's told in Amazon Studio's new girl power version, with Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver starring as the King and Queen of a fairytale land that starts to look suspiciously more like our own as the story progresses.
In a bold new telling of the beloved fairytale, our young heroine isn't a wallflower pining for prince charming but instead, an ambitious young woman whose dreams are much bigger than her old-fashioned world will allow.
It's a volt face role for Brosnan, 68, last seen as the kind of grinning gynecologist who makes you unconsciously cross your legs in the comedy horror False Positive.
But what unites both new films is the unmistakably feminist undercurrent driving all the main action because this Cinderella isn't waiting around for magic or romance to save her, she's determined to save herself.
After what we've all just lived through the time is certainly ripe for a bit of escapist fluff and this Brosnan's new film delivers, with musical covers of famous pop songs like Janet Jackson's signature hit Rhythm Nation and Madonna's Material Girl among many others.
What you think about these song choices or the Broadway belters who deliver them, including legendary performers like Frozen's own Let It Snow singer Idina Menzel, will predict how much you enjoy this latest retelling of the classic fairytale (and I admit my interest often wavered).
But let's start with Brosnan's role as the king of this very sexist world, where men call the shots and a girl's only hope is to marry well and hope that love will follow. The Irish actor is reunited with his James Bond Goldeneye co-star Minnie Driver, who this time isn't a deadly Russian agent but instead an anguished wife who is suddenly finding less and less to admire in her once lovestruck husband.
Alongside being a husband Brosnan is the stoic dad to Prince Robert (played by Nicholas Galitzine, best known for the Irish coming of age film Handsome Devil).
Stoic is an understatement, he's overbearing and controlling, trying to mold the destiny of his heir without regard to his heir's own wishes. Because of this, there is tension between father and son that actually echoes the plays of Brian Friel, but unlike in Friel's work, Brosnan's father is able to reconsider his own objectives in a way that makes him a much more modern dad.
“That's very kind of you to see that echo,” Brosnan tells IrishCentral. “Friel is a magnificent man of words and drama, so to be compared to fine drama is high praise. Well, the director Kay Cannon really brought her a game to this piece. And her heart and soul is in every page of the script. And she created for the pop singer and actress Camila Cabello this magnificent Cinderella, a unique telling of a story which is old as the hills.”
In Brosnan's mind the original Cinderella story goes all the way back to the 17th century, where in the first telling it was a simple story about repression, about a young woman shrouded and shamed by her exploitative family and society. But this more modern telling is rejuvenated in the hands of both Kay and Camila Brosnan says, and the 24-year-old actress shines brightly in every scene.
The challenge to play such a beloved character and make it her own and to make the storytelling relevant for women these days also inspired Brosnan he says. “For me as the actor playing King Rowan happened because I was just enamored by the writing."
And then of course the cast came along and you have Billy Porter as the fairy godmother and Idina Menzel, the Broadway diva, as the wicked stepmother to bring the project home. It is just a fantastic cast of players and it was a was a delight to go to act in every day.”
Brosnan's enthusiasm for the cast is unmistakably genuine and for an actor who has known more than his share of tragedy (his first wife Cassandra Harris passed away in 1991 at the age of 41), it's a welcome sight to see him enjoying himself and his film career as much as he clearly is.
His old friend and former Goldeneye co-star Minnie Driver plays his increasingly dissatisfied wife in the new film, but there's humor lurking underneath all the barbs. The pair have remained good friends since his James Bond days and in fact, she was an early supporter he says.
“She was with me on day one of Goldeneye and at that time the Bond series had been dormant for six years. And here she was the first day of shooting singing Stand By Your Man with a Russian accent dressed in hot pants and a cowboy hat.
"My late daughter Charlotte and her were very good friends. So I knew this young woman. And to watch her career and the work she's done has been beautiful to behold. When I agreed to play king Rowan in Cinderella I asked Kay who was going to play my queen. I was delighted when I heard, it was brilliant news.”
Speaking by Zoom chat from his home in Hawaii, Brosnan is a long way from his childhood in Navan, County Meath now. “To be Irish Catholic in the 1950s and have a marriage which was not there, a father who was not there... my mother suffered greatly," he once told the press about his experience. "She was very courageous. She took the bold steps to go away and be a nurse in England. Basically wanting a better life for her and myself.”
His solitary and a times rough start in Ireland has been much on his mind lately he confesses. In fact, he's been writing a memoir between bouts of painting (he's become a collected painter) and filmmaking he says.
“Ireland is never far from my heart, mind, or memory. I'm supposed to go back to Ireland next year for a film that's been on-again, off-again for a while. And here at home in Hawaii, I'm in the process of writing memoirs, which I've been noodling around with for the last year or so. I've dug into it a little bit deeper in the last month or so, I mean reviewing some of my notes and really sitting down to it. Especially at this time in life when calamity and virus and death is so close,” he adds, “that always makes you sit up and pay attention to the present and what you have.”
“There's some pull there to Ireland,” he continues. “I'm not sure what shape or color form it will be, but it'll find me. I'm sure I'll find it. It's where I come from. It's where I belong to and every character I play starts with an Irish heart. I've been embraced by American and nurtured by America and I've found a career here, but like my character King Rowan in this new film I'm an Irishman really, in my heart and sentiment and way of looking at life and finding the humor in the thorny side of life.”
Cinderella will be available on Amazon Prime on September 3.