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Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical  (PG) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Matthew Warchus, UK, 2022, 117 mins

Cast:  Emma Thompson, Andrea Riseborough, Stephen Graham, Alisha Weir

Review by Carol Allen

Director Matthew Warchus’s award winning stage production of Matilda the Musical has been packing ‘em in since it opened in 2010.  So not surprisingly the producers behind the film version have decided to put that too into Warchus’s skilled hands.  

And a wise decision it was too, because this film is a real cracker in which the director has seized the additional opportunities of cinema without losing any of the verve of the original show.  It looks terrific, moves at a brisk pace, is often very funny and is totally enthralling.

For those who haven’t seen the show or indeed read Roald Dah’s book, it’s the story of a really bright little girl called Matilda Wormwood ((Alisha Weir), who is amazingly intelligent.  She solves complex maths problems in a trice but more importantly is an avid reader of really grown up books such as The Grapes of Wrath and has a vivid imagination. which feeds her own story telling talent.

Unfortunately she also has terrible parents (Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough), who are only interested in making money and spending it on trashy stuff – their taste is mind bogglingly terrible.  And far from appreciating what a treasure of a daughter they have got (Dad wanted a boy), they treat her really badly.

And then when Matilda is eventually sent to school, it’s to the aptly named Crunchem Hall, run by the horrendous bullying Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson) who’s put up a statue at the school’s entrance with the legend “No Snivelling”.

 But the enterprising and clever Matilda with the support of her sympathetic teacher Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch), who recognises the child’s talent and takes her under her wing, is destined to eventually win through against the odds.  It is by no means an easy road for her though it is a very entertaining one for us

Alisha Weir, who is on screen for most of the film, gives an assured and empathetic performance, which has us rooting for her and she has a sweet singing voice.  The musical numbers involving a vast number of children filling the screen – must have emptied the stage schools of the whole United Kingdom – are not only rousing but brilliantly imaginative and very well staged.  It’s the best child choreography since Bugsy Malone way back in 1976.

The villains of the piece – the Wormwood parents and Trunchbull – are played as caricatures and it is great fun to see these normally straight dramatic actors doing such broad cartoon comedy.  Thompson however, almost unrecognisable under about half a ton of prosthetics and a costume which makes her look like a Nazi concentration camp guard, is not only funny but also quite disturbingly scary.  The character’s actions are basically sadistic child abuse – I gasped in horror when she spun one child round in the air by her plaited hair – and the revenge Matilda and the other children eventually inflict on her is valid but also tough stuff.  All of which would probably be too much for a sensitive small child of say under four, hence the film’s Parental Guidance certificate as opposed to the universal U.

Interestingly, while those aforesaid caricature characters are played by white actors, in line with contemporary thinking the “nice guy” roles in the story – the aforesaid Miss Honey, Sindhu Vee as Matilda’s librarian friend, Mrs Phelps who encourages her love of novels and is spellbound by Matilda’s own story telling and Carl Spencer and Lauren Alexandra as the circus performer hero and heroine of the dramatic love story that Matilda is weaving for Mrs Phelps, are all artists of colour. 

And then there are the other children, too many to name, too many to identify, all very talented.   One whose little face will stay in my mind for a long time though is the little boy who is forced by Trunchbull to eat an entire many layered chocolate cake.  Must have put the poor child off chocolate cake forever.





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