REVIEW: Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical, BFI London Film Festival

This film adaptation of the stage show puts a fresh spin on Roald Dahl’s beloved story and is filled with plenty of fun and charm.

This bubbly and heartfelt adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda while reminding us of the charm of the original book, also manages to re-examine the story and the characters in a refreshing light – even if in places the darker undertones of the plot are softened for a new generation of Matilda fans.

First of all, what is so lovely about this film adaptation of the musical is the way in which many of the creatives behind the Olivier Award winning musical are on board to ensure that Matilda’s story and the musical is thoughtfully brought to film audiences while allowing to explore the musical’s possibilities on a bigger kind of stage. Director Matthew Warchus ensures that the energy and pace of the film keeps audiences of all ages thoroughly engaged, while also getting the balance between the heartfelt moments and sheer exuberance the musical numbers have – but I just feel as though some moments undermine children’s ability to cope with the darker aspects of some the adult character’s behaviour towards children.

Admittedly, this does give the story a fresh new perspective and I do appreciate the way in which Dennis Kelly’s screenplay draws on Miss Honey’s story a little bit more, giving extra context as to why the bond between Matilda and her teacher becomes quite strong so quickly. Meanwhile, this adaptation is filled with plenty of lines that are real gems (too good to spoil here) and had the audience giggling and stay true to the characters that Roald Dahl so vividly drew up – perfectly delivered by a cast that are completely joyful to watch.

Equally enjoyable are the musical numbers – many of which feel as though they are staged in a surreal way but feel suitably theatrical – ensuring that the film stays true to its stage roots. Particularly enjoyable are the routines for ‘School Song’ and ‘Bruce’ and ‘Revolting Children’ which are all so playful and joyful that you can’t help but be swept away by it all. Tim Minchin’s lyrics for these and so many other songs in the film really capture the spirit of the story and characters really well.

Some of the most strong moments in the film is the moments in which the audience is taken inside Matilda’s mind and her imagination – in scenes in which she recounts a story to Mrs Phelps (the librarian who encourages her with her reading and enjoys her storytelling). This adds extra depth and understanding of just how clever and brave Matilda is when she is standing up against the bullies. Matilda is certainly a courageous individual and this really shines through this adaptation – particularly during the scene in canteen in which Matilda tries to protect Bruce Bogtrotter or even when she realises her own powers in standing up to bullies. The audience sees her blossom as the film goes on and it is heartwarming to see.

The adult cast are brilliant, with Emma Thompson offering a very different and unexpected Miss Trunchbull that adds depth and different context for the character’s behaviour, Lashana Lynch is a warmhearted and sensitive Miss Honey and Stephen Graham is delightfully dimwitted Mr Wormwood. But this is a film that really is about the children of the cast – all of whom are a joy to watch – very much stealing many scenes from the adults (which is as it should be). Leading the way is the superb performance of Alisha Weir as Matilda, who manages to capture her loneliness as well as her intelligence with supreme ease and confidence – certainly one to watch in the future. Equally as good is Charlie Hodson-Prior who has a great gift for comedy as the scene in which his character Bruce gets in trouble for stealing Miss Trunchbull’s chocolate cake proves.

Yes perhaps it feels a little bit fluffier and lighter than the original book is, but this is still a heartwarming film that leave you with a smile on your face.

by Emma Clarendon

Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical is released in cinemas on the 25th November.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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