Wonka  (PG) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Paul King, US/UK/Canada, 2023, 116 mins

Cast:  Timothy Chalamet, Olivia Coleman, Calah Lane, Paterson Joseph, Matthew Baynton, Matt Lucas

Review by Carol Allen

Wonka is a big chocolate Christmas cake of a film, stuffed with sugar, covered in icing and cream with a touch of rum.   And a long way from the comparative darkness of Roald Dahl’s book and the two previous Willy Wonka performances by Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp. 

But that’s alright.  Christmas is a time for stuffing yourself with sweetness and light, and that’s all there in Timothy Chalamet’s performance as the young Wonka, who comes to town with his magical chocolate recipe, which makes you high in a literal, floating through the air sense, along with his dream of sharing his confectionary with the world.   Chalamet is as endearing as Paddington Bear (they share a scriptwriter/director in Paul King) plus he can sing and dance. The dance numbers are spectacular, there are lots of colourful and impressive special effects and really beautiful sets reminiscent of 19th century Paris and Vienna. 

The time and place in which the story is set is actually a bit of a mixture.  Wonka himself, slim as a wand, dresses like a young David Copperfield, complete with top hat. The other characters sartorial wise are a fashion mixture of the Dickens era and the thirties and forties, while there’s also more than a touch of early 20th century Austro-Hungarian Empire in the mix, particularly in the policemen’s helmets.

Contemporary business methods however make an appearance in young Wonka’s chief adversaries, the cartel of Paterson Joseph, Matthew Baynton and Matt Lucas as the trio of chocolatiers, who’ve got the choc biz sewn up in this town and don’t want any competition, while Olivia Coleman as the villainous landlady, who keeps Wonka and his cute little friend Noodle (Calah Lane) prisoners in her laundry, is a bit of a ringer for Mrs Joe (Great Expectations) in appearance and  character. 

These almost cartoon villains do lend a Dahlian touch of slightly  bitter darkness to the overall sweetness of the confection.  While a very squashed down Hugh Grant, as a posh version of the original Oompa-Loompa, manages to steal every scene he’s in.

I will confess the whole confection is perhaps a touch over sweet for my taste.   But with tons of big screen spectacle, song and dance, lashings of comedy, a hero to root for, a cute child heroine to identify with and villains to boo, this will be for many a recipe for the perfect Christmas  family treat. 

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