Roald Dahl’s Matilda leaps from stage to screen with this new adaptation of the children’s novel.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical stars Dame Emma Thompson, Lashana Lynch, Stephen Graham and Sindhu Vee as well as Alisha Weir who debuts in this blockbuster transformation of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage show.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical was screened as part of the London Film Festival 2022. All words of this review were written entirely by the writers at Cinamore.
Derived from the stage show Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, is the well-recognised story of a mistreated bookworm Matilda Wormwood (Alisha Weir) who when sent to an authoritarian school run by the monstrous headteacher Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson), finds solace in books offered by the comforting teacher Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch).
Resuming their roles as the trio responsible for the show’s earlier success, director Matthew Warchus, composer Tim Minchin and writer Dennis Kelly handle the adaptation from stage to screen in a delicate manner returning to add a new song, and delivering the story in a new medium.
Speaking of this adaptation, Warchus told Cinamore at a press event attended by all the key cast that this film had to “fill in all the details off the stage”. Warchus expanded, explaining how through the film he was aware that it meant showing exactly the scale of what Matilda’s school looked like, her village, her home and the broader setting for the film despite its timelessness.
Thankfully, staying true to the imaginative illustrations in the book by Quentin Blake, the vibrant production design mirrors the colourful playfulness of the books, offering familiarity to recent readers.
For many, the thought of a Matilda musical adaptation would bring them instinctively to question the way in which its most recognisable song – When I Grow Up – is handled.
On stage, it is told with three children wishfully projecting whilst playing on swings that dangle over the audience.
On film the song truly comes to life, powerfully demonstrating the magic of imaginative play, and how when we are young we wish and dream of careers plenty, unaffected by life’s challenges.
Similarly, Lashana Lynch’s performance as teacher Jennifer Honey almost brought a tear through her rendition of My House, the minute inflexions of performance working better for the song on screen than on stage.
As Lynch later disclosed, “I had my own Miss Honey growing up who was also black,” and it is this earnest truth that is mirrored in her performance.
My concern though is that the film, unfortunately, doesn’t find its footing one way or the other until the film spends more time showcasing the absurdism of headteacher Mrs Trunchbull.
Because of this, with the film headed to Netflix globally aside from a UK cinema release, I am concerned that many may turn it off as while its opening set piece is impressive, it quickly loses steam, and only finds its second wind when Emma Thompson bullies her way onto the screen.
Yet, as Thompson explained “Trunchbull was cruel because when she was vulnerable she was crushed,” adding that for the adaptation she knew that “I needed her to be real”.
In fact, the Dame continued, “making work for children is the most sacred work any of us can do” allowing it to be a chance to use the role as a way to explore emotional maturity and to find comfort in stories and imagination.
Referring to her co-star Alisha Weir as an example for more her age, Thompson continued explaining that during children’s development they are sponges for culture and learning, and she feels it is her duty to provide them with the best stories.
Though on set, donned as Miss Trunchbull, she struggled to strike fear into the juvenile actors outside of filming “they just thought of me as Nanny McPhee!”
Regrettably, the children’s actors were where the cracks began to show. Occasionally shouting their lines, or failing to hit their marks of what the story requires can be a little irksome, however, the choreography and the large ensemble dance sequences are mesmerising enough to allow you to forget until computer graphics take over and reduce it into something akin to Camila Cabello’s Cinderella and add a bundle of more issues.
What this film ultimately becomes is a joyous display of camp musical glee making theatre accessible and bringing new life to the Matilda name even with its flaws.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is in UK cinemas from November 25 and globally on Netflix from December 25.
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