The story of Cinderella has been adapted countless times, from the iconic Disney animation to Kenneth Branagh’s recent live action take. You may be less familiar with Three Wishes for Cinderella, a Czech-German co-production seen as a Christmas classic in Central Europe; until now, the only home video releases have been of poor image quality and poorly subtitled, but this new restoration will change that.
Václav Vorlícek’s film gives a different take on the Cinderella story to what we’re used to, inspired by the Czech version of the folklore and by twentieth-century feminism. Libuse Safránková’s Cinderella is still an orphan, but she uses her own wits rather than relying on fairy assistance to nab Pavel Trávnícek’s Prince before her step-sister does (OK, she does have three magic hazelnuts, but they merely provide her with the outfits necessary to disguise herself).
This is a Cinderella who, disguised as a huntsman, proves herself the best shot of them all. But she cares for animals and stands up to authority, preventing the Prince from killing a deer. She’s also a Cinderella who plays hard to get, leaving the ball of her own free will because she won’t marry the Prince until he’s worked out her real identity. All the noble girls in the land compete bitterly for his attention, but this Prince is left fawning over the peasant girl with a constant ability to outwit him.
As well as the chemistry brought about by this subversive take on the central figures, there’s a wealth of delightful supporting characters, from the cruel and socially ambitious stepmother to the wagon driver who himself is in love with Cinderella – these performances are carefully balanced to make an impression and entertain us without straying into the excessive.
The other real appeal of this film is its take on the fairy tale landscape, beautifully crafted from the forests and castles of Bohemia and Saxony. Again, this is no gaudy Disney cartoon; rather, Vorlícek presents a very deliberate contrast between the muted whites, greys and browns of the forested landscape and the bright colours worn by the royal family and their associates. The presence of all the region’s fauna – deer, owls, foxes, even a funny dog – is highlighted throughout, building upon the warm atmosphere that gives the film a very festive feel.
And that dichotomy of styles is what makes Three Wishes For Cinderella such an entrancing watch – it’s at once a classic fairy tale movie, with beautiful settings and heartwarming romance, and a subversive, feminist revision of that well-worn tale, with a Cinderella who makes her own rules. If your family has worn out the Disney DVDs, this may be the perfect Christmas gift to fill their space.
Special Features: Appreciation by film historian Michael Brooke / 16-page booklet / Trailers
THREE WISHES FOR CINDERELLA (1973) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: VÁCLAV VORLÍCEK / SCREENPLAY: FRANTISEK PAVLÍCEK / STARRING: LIBUSE SAFRÁNKOVÁ, PAVEL TRÁVNÍCEK, CAROLA BRAUNBOCK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW