Everyone has at least one film they watch each and every year once Christmas is on the horizon. Films like Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story are enjoyed by billions of people all across the world and will continue to remain popular in the future. However, then there are those films watched during the holidays that are beloved in their native countries/continents, where they seem totally obscure to the rest of the planet. And for the Czech Republic, there is one national treasure that has been seen by millions across the country – Three Wishes for Cinderella. Released during a second golden age of the nation’s fixation with cinematic fairy tales, Three Wishes for Cinderella has been shown on television in not only its native country but also Germany, Norway and Slovakia during the holiday season. If you think that this is going to be another classic iteration of the timeless fairy tale, like the Disney version, then you will be left reasonably short-changed. This adaptation has gone through several modifications that will not only surprise many, but those who stick through it will be left delighted until the very end.
This version differs from the classic telling of the story, there is no pumpkin carriage, nor a fairy godmother, or even a glass slipper. Three Wishes for Cinderella was actually based off a version of the story by Czech writer, Božena Němcová, rather than the most popular telling of the story by Charles Perrault. The film stars Libuše Šafránková as Cinderella, a young lady who is abused by her vicious stepmother and her ugly stepsister, she is forced to clean the house, do the dishes etc – note that I said house rather than a chateau, as Cinderella lives in a remote village in the middle of nowhere that is preparing the arrival of the king and queen. Cinderella uses it as an act of cover and runs off with her cherished horse for a brief time and bumps into the prince of this frozen winter wonderland. But instead of her immediately falling for the prince, the prince must actively pursue the young woman as she presents herself in different disguises throughout the film, and thus her identity remains a mystery to him. But perhaps the freshest addition to this adaptation is that Cinderella stumbles upon three magical hazelnuts where once one is cracked, grants her a wish to use at her disposal – such giving her costumes like the huntsman attire, which she later goes out on a hunting competition with the prince and his men.
One of the most infuriating ticks that many have with the famous story is that Cinderella comes off as extremely passive to the cruel orders of her stepmother. Those who are fed up of that character trait can be assured that it does not turn up at all. Šafránková does fight back as the title character, even when her stepsister attempts to rub in her mother’s order to clean up all the mess that she did on purpose, Cinderella simply grabs hold of her dress as she turns to walk away and lets her know to grow up. There is something very refreshing about how the character is written in this version. As much as the character is kind and one with nature like in the Perrault version, there is something missing that doesn’t make her a necessarily strong character and it is that passiveness. But with Šafránková’s turn as the lead, she is not only kind and one with nature, but also has a rebellious spirit. Her icy cold glares at her stepmother are melded together well with her fondness for animals – dogs, horses, birds, owls, you name it, she adores them. And it is just the right balance between not becoming too bitter and thus too plucky, or becoming too much of an animal lover and turning into an annoying flower child. Her performance is solid, nuanced and well thought out.
Another reason why Cinderella is well-characterised is, unlike previous and future iterations of the character, she gets skills, not from wishing or the magical hazelnuts – they only contribute in gifts, that’s all. These skills have been previously built up beforehand either through her late father’s teaching or natural ability. She manages to thwart the prince’s plan to hunt deer and breaks his horse, which leaves him gobsmacked. During the hunting challenge, she manages to clean shot a bird of prey in which the prince and his men miss entirely. The way the film portrays it is very plausible, but also ironic as the norm for women like Cinderella in this realm is something that demotes them to a small role, like cleaning the dishes or feeding the horses, but she outsmarts the men in their line of work. But this is the only part of the film that doesn’t feel right for the character is when she shoots down the bird, as much as it is a predator of the sky, Cinderella is supposed to be one with nature anyway – so wouldn’t it seem immoral to her ideals to shoot it down in the first place?
But apart from this, there is very little to complain about with Three Wishes for Cinderella. It still has the same magic of traditional fairy tales, which is what the director, Václav Vorlíček understands. Apparently, he was asked over and over again if there was ever going to be a sequel which he swiftly and smartly turned down. That would defeat the purpose of having the subtitle to nearly every fairy tale, “Once upon a time…”, as it only happened once. It would be difficult to recreate the luscious snowy landscapes, the lavish costumes and sets, the entrancing score or asking actors like Šafránková to star once again, which begs the question, why would you want to recreate the magic the original left behind when it is so endearing to millions across the Czech Republic? It has that much hype to live up to, that it would seem too similar and thus disappointing. If you are sick of Home Alone or It’s a Wonderful Life and wants something completely out of left field to watch on Christmas Eve, spare a few pounds for Second Run’s latest DVD – Three Wishes for Cinderella. Clocking in at just 83 minutes which flies over, it will be worth the money.