Sapphic desire. Obsession. Identity crisis. These powerful themes coalesce at the heart of Ian Softley’s adaptation of Sabastien Japrisot’s novel, Trap for Cinderella. Opening in dramatic fashion with a fireball tearing through a French villa in the middle of a cool, crisp night, the film tells the story of Mickey, a young woman who has survived the disaster, but awoken with no memory of her past. Upon returning home to London, she begins to suspect the very nature of her own identity, and through the patchwork of her fractured memories and the diary of her friend, Do, who died in the same fire, uncovers a mystery filled with conspiracy, greed and fragile relationship on a knife’s edge.

Clearly the film’s key stylistic reference is Alfred Hitchcock. From the narrative that twists, turns and somersaults with audience-baiting delight; the themes of desire, obsession and deception; and even the sense of classical style and rigid formalism that defines the meticulous nature of Hitchcock’s films, Softley’s film it can be argued, has something of the spirit of the grand master, in its own modern way, favouring reality over the over-elaborate. However, Softley is not heir to the throne of suspense, and unfortunately, such a comparison only reveals the flaws within the film’s narrative and stylistic endeavours.

The pacing of the film is problematic, moving far too quickly through Mickey’s exploration of her past life upon her return, without any sense of internal struggle, and headfirst into its first major twist, one that is played without the gravitas it truly deserves. Once the plot thickens and Mickey is drawn deeper into her identity crisis, the film immediately strengthens, seemingly providing the perfect opportunity for experimental technique and a challenging interpretation of identity in film. However, Softley never pushes this angle far enough, only the occasional subtle change in voiceover and a single brief moment where Mickey’s face shifts into an alternate visage. As such, this feels like an opportunity missed and makes the change of pace in the middle of the film more direct and detrimental to the film as a whole. Thankfully, the final third is a success, channeling the suspense filled atmosphere of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, as revelations rise to the surface, changing our understanding of previous events and leading to confrontation, even if a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required to embrace the entirety of the narrative.

However, the film finds redemption from its greater issues in the form of its two leads, Tuppence Middleton as Mickey and Alexandra Roach as Do. Middleton absolutely dominates the film, from start to finish; In playing a character as complex as Mickey, pre and post amnesia, Middleton has to give a performance that truly reflects the psychological turmoil and struggle to define her own identity, and she never fails in embracing this challenge, moving from duplicitous to dumbstruck, aggressive to amiable, and irresistible to insecure. A film as invested in the mystery of its central character as Trap for Cinderella lives or dies on the back of the lead’s performance…and Middleton excels.

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While Middleton’s Mickey is the centre of the film, Roach’s Do is perhaps its dark heart and her performance comes close to stealing the film. As a young woman reunited with her childhood friend, and emotionally returned to a time before tragedy and the mundane became her life, Roach perfectly channels the sense of desperate adoration, bubbling sexual frenzy and the breaking of a soul as she is driven to despair by unrequited obsession. These two young actresses have all the hallmarks of British stars in the making. The choice of a modern soundtrack featuring the likes of Metronomy, Crystal Castles and Jessie Ware proves to be an inspired one, giving the film a sense of verisimilitude and a dynamic energy that drives the momentum and enhances both Mickey’s spirit of adventure, and Do’s tormented desire.

The London scenes of the film are unfortunately too cliché, coming off both touristy at times and then too forced, particularly the London clubs and the bohemian apartment. It is almost as if Softley is trying to express in his modern London what Antonioni accomplished with Blow Up in its definitive reflection of 1960’s swinging London. Unfortunately, he attempts this without the artistic experiment and expressionism Antonioni mastered, but rather with a sense of apathy and forced realism, that feels contrived and ultimately hurts the London portion of the film.

The depiction of the South of France, however, is far more compelling and rich with aesthetic texture. The glorious sunshine bouncing off of Mickey’s body as she lies by the pool or on the golden sand of the beach, often topless with her skin shimmering like gold. This imagery reinforces her defiant freedom and recklessness, as well as her vulnerability, foregrounding the danger that awaits her; while Do lurks in the shade, unable to define herself and express her desires, all the while coveting Mickey as a sexual icon and a surrogate self. This second half of the film evokes not only Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief in its sun-bleached decadence, but a far more revealing comparison can be made with Francois Ozon’s own superior ode to Hitchcock, Swimming Pool, a film that shares Trap for Cinderella’s themes of obsession, Sapphic desire and love gone wrong.

Trap for Cinderella is a valiant attempt to create a modern British mystery in the mold of the classic Hitchcock thriller, held together by compelling lead performances from Tuppence Middleton and Alexandra Roach. However, in attempting to emulate such a distinctive master, the film’s narrative falls short and it’s identity becomes as jumbled as that of the amnesiac central character; torn between two locations, the past and present, bluffs and double bluffs. It could be argued that this is an intentional technique intended to reflect the identity crisis Mickey struggles through, but the sense of restraint and the overall narrative struggles make this feel like a missed opportunity for a more experimental and dynamic thriller. Despite it’s flaws, Trap for Cinderella remains a positive example of British cinema’s drive to define itself, in terms of it’s own cultural history (Hitchcock), and establish a position within modern cinema in order to continue to represent Britain in the future.

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk