Adapting Sébastien Japrisot’s novel for the 21st century, Iain Softley’s Trap For Cinderella is a cautionary tale of lust, vengeance and greed.
Stolen Kisses by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Well, if the shoe fits. The Cinderella story has provided the narrative backbone for many a film, with regular cinematic tropes of rags-to-riches transformations and the final-reel tension of a rom-com prince searching for his gone-underground bride. But Iain Softley’s Trap For Cinderella with its story of blurred identities takes a different line. Based on the 1969 novel by Sébastien Japrisot, certain elements are reconfigured – with Julia, the rich aunt’s PA doubling as both ugly sister and fairy godmother – able to make all of Do’s wishes come true with the strike of a match rather than the shake of a wand. And despite some low-key love interest from Aneurin Barnard and Stanley Weber, there are no real Prince Charmings, only Micky – simultaneously romantic lead for Do and a glimpse of the high life on the other side of the looking glass. And then there’s the slipper – the very question of finding identity – reshaped in Micky’s likeness under the surgeon’s scalpel, and the film’s labyrinthine narrative casting doubts over whether the person inside fits the face. Updated from André Cayatte’s 1965 film Piège pour Cendrillon to London’s übercool Hoxton, there is neverthelees still something quaintly retro about Softley’s identity thriller – its fairy-tale eyes with a new face.
Amnesiac and with her face entirely reconstructed, Micky (Tuppence Middleton) wakes up in a clinic in Switzerland after an explosion at her late Aunt Elinor’s (Frances de la Tour) villa in the south of France. She’s whisked back to London by Elinor’s PA Julia (Kerry Fox) where she stands to inherit a fortune on her 21st birthday, and where she tries to piece together her past life through photos and forgotten objects. Through her childhood friend Do’s (Alexandra Roach) diary, the blanks are filled in – of two girls who spent their summers together but abruptly torn apart by adult scandal. Until a chance encounter in the bank where Do works brings them back together, Do’s long harboured obsession reignited and immediately she’s captivated by Micky’s easy grace and charm. Do moves in and the friends grow closer – to the detriment of Micky’s relationship with Jake (Aneurin Barnard), who’s slowly pushed away. But the girls’ relationship too becomes fractious and when Elinor takes to her deathbed, Micky and Do head for the south of France, where jealousy and doubt give way to murderous greed.
Vertigo, The Talented Mr Ripley (and Plein Soleil), L’Appartement, Swimming Pool or Single White Female (and the list goes on), we could dedicate a whole book to Franco-American gay-tinged identity thrillers. So perhaps the most pressing question for Iain Softley’s Trap For Cinderella is what’s new, pussycat? Gorgeous high society gal (or guy) with obsessive friend, check. Fatal accident, and stolen identity, kinda. Layer upon layer of twist, turn, cross and double cross, absolutely. It’s unfortunate then that despite some brilliant performances, Trap for Cinderella never quite hits its mark. Frances de la Tour in a few brief scenes almost steals the show with inimitable death-bed eye-rolling and Kerry Fox is back to her Shallow Grave scheming best, as prime manipulator and malevolent malcontent Julia. The leads Tuppence Middleton and Alexandra Roach are both exceptional, but both roles are rather underbaked – and despite baring the naked breasted bohemian charms of Edie Sedgwick or even Mick Jagger in Performance, Micky’s never quite distant, ethereal or needy enough to make the final reel twist of her genuine love and concern for Do work.
In the end, Micky’s a good girl – it’s just sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Do may not have the fake fur coat, but she’s the predator – obsessive and possibly vengeful. But her strings are all too easily pulled by woman scorned Julia and there’s a missing link in the psychology of Do’s decision to kill off the object of her desire – is it greed to inherit Micky’s easy lifestyle, revenge for her father’s suicide or simply a recognition that if she can’t ever have Micky, Do can at least be her. Trap for Cinderella spends most of its time pondering its identity crisis, is the mysterious girl with the new face Do or Micky? And each story lends a different perspective to who the broken and bloodied body brought back to life might belong to. But with Micky’s voice and personality shining through, and an easy litmus test of whether she can swim, it’s never really in doubt. The more interesting diversion is the possibility that it is Do, scheming her way into becoming Micky and regretting it later. But the duality of the girls, divided into quiet obsessive killer and misunderstood It girl, make for a disappointingly traditional story arc. And whereas in the Sixties, the needy working girl would have been punished for her illicit lesbian desires, she now lacks an original cinematic sin, but trounced nevertheless by the good and wealthy beauty on the pedestal.
A return to low-key independent filmmaking after a slew of studio blockbusters, Trap For Cinderella has been a labour of love for Iain Softley, taking up the screenwriting mantle for the first time since Backbeat. And there are some stand-out moments, such as Micky’s steadycam night wander through the streets of Shoreditch, Nouvelle Vague styled jump cuts, and fantastic performances from a stellar cast. All too often though, Trap For Cinderella feels achingly familiar, a kaleidoscope of genre thrills foraged from other films. The Trap For Cinderella may be the amnesia of not knowing whether you’re a princess or a scullery maid, but it’s an identity crisis and a honey trap Hollywood director Softley just can’t avoid.
Trap For Cinderella is released on 12th July 2013 in the UK