Harper’s Bazaar UK: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella: it’s fair to say the traditional Disney princess has come under scrutiny of late.
The notion of a damsel in distress saved only by a man is enough to make the modern woman uncomfortable with the fairytales they read – and accepted, often without question – as children.
Over the past few years, Disney stories have changed with the times, with a rise in strong female characters – thanks to , and a slow move towards more diverse princesses such as Moana and The Princess and The Frog’s Tiana.There was also the #DreamBigPrincess initiative in 2016.
One of Disney’s latest offerings is another modern spin of a classic tale: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. The all-star cast includes Bazaar cover star Keira Knightley, who takes on the iconic role of the Sugar Plum Fairy alongside Dame Helen Mirren, ballerina Misty Copeland, Jack Whitehall and Ellie Bamber.
For Bamber – who spoke to Harper’s Bazaar ahead of the film’s release and straight after a dress fitting for the London premiere – the movie comes with a plethora of strong female characters to complement this new wave of modern game-changing female Disney leads.
However, while the 21-year-old welcomes this new wave of princesses, she can’t quite bring herself to completely oppose the traditional fairytale role.
“I mean, I think it’s about time really [to have these powerful Disney female leads] but, having said that, I still love Cinderella,” she says. “There is something about that film and about all of the other fairytales that is magical.
“But, in this day and age, it is really important to have strong female characters and there is certainly that in The Nutcracker. So I think it’s about time and [it’s great] to be reimagining the story in this way which is so truthful and also so wonderful for young girls to have role models.”
While Bamber would have liked these new strong female characters to look up to as a child, she wasn’t short of them herself.
“I had two very strong and powerful women in my life,” she says, referring to her mother and grandmother. “So, they were the fairytale I had.”
Bamber’s eagerness to join the cast of The Nutcracker, where she plays the elder sister of main character Clara [played by Mackenzie Foy], was fuelled partly by the A-List line-up. But she was also drawn by the opportunity to star in a Disney film and be directed by Lasse Hallström, the director behind Chocolat – one of Bamber’s favourite films growing up.
“It seems to me like we’ve been doing quite a lot of re-imaging of classics but I always just think there’s something really beautiful about telling a story that people know but taking a new spin on it,” she says of the continued appeal of stories like The Nutcracker. “I think that’s what keeps it new – every time there’s something different that the audience doesn’t expect. And, to be honest, who doesn’t love a bit of magic?”
Bamber was born in Surrey in 1997 and acted as a child before taking on her best-known role as the daughter of Isla Fisher and Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters in Tom Ford’s 2016 film Nocturnal Animals. Through working alongside such esteemed co-stars and crew at a relatively young age, Bamber picked up some early acting tips from the very best.
“I learned that everything is in the detail,” she says of Ford. “Tom is such a detailed individual – he thinks about every aspect of every scene. I learned about how important that was and subtlety and how that can really convey something to the audience without being so in your face… sometimes the finest details can make such a big picture in the audience’s eye.”
And, yes, she also learned some fashion lessons: “I mean this is Tom Ford,” she laughs. “So I watched what he wore. He wore this gorgeous double denim look a lot with a cowboy hat and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. I’ve tried to recreate it, I’m not sure it’s ever worked but I’ll keep trying.”
Next up for Bamber is taking on the role of Cosette in the BBC’s adaptation of Les Miserables. The actresses’ part in the highly-anticipated drama remake, also starring David Oyelowo, Dominic West, Lily Collins and Olivia Colman, was announced back in January and when we speak, Bamber has just returned from promoting the six-part TV series in Cannes.
“It was really incredible for me,” she says. “The group of actors I was lucky enough to work with really were just sick, really really cool people and amazing. The original Les Mis book, is so beautiful and Andrew Davies, who’s adapted it, has really brought it to life but kept everything contained which I think is really extraordinary because it has 1,500 pages. It’s such a beautiful script.”
With a Disney film, BBC adaptation of a classic and fashion tips from Tom Ford under her belt, there’s no telling what Bamber will do next. We can bank on it being exciting – and stylish – whatever it might be.