This version of Matilda keeps the essential storyline elements from the book and the film …
I’m a huge Matilda fan. I loved the Roald Dahl book as a child (I’ve read it a few times as an adult too I must admit). Both myself and my daughter love the 1996 film version starring Danny DeVito, Mara Wilson and Pam Ferris. So, you can understand my trepidation when I heard there was a remake – entitled Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical. Except, this isn’t a remake. It’s a mash-up of the book, the 1996 film version and the wildly successful West End musical all of the same name. Such an ambitious project could really go one of two ways. Either very, very bad or in this case – very, very good.
This version of Matilda keeps the essential storyline elements from the book and the film – uncared-for bookworm titular character Matilda grows up with parents who don’t even know she is there. They are too busy focusing on themselves to realise their daughter is a genius who channels her energy into educating herself and – later on – telekinesis. What makes this version different, apart from the characters bursting into song at opportune moments, is the ability to add real elements of the whimsy, for example, by playing out the storyline of Miss Honey, expertly played by Lashana Lynch, portraying her parents as an acrobat and an escape artist. They exist in almost dream-like sequences when Matilda (Alisha Weir), tells their story to her first friend, the librarian Mrs Phelps (Sindhu Vee). Matilda’s parents are also incredibly and beautifully tacky, just like in the 1996 version, this time around played by Andrea Riseborough and Stephen Graham (green hair and all).
So much of the joy from this film comes from watching Emma Thompson ham it up as the comically evil Ms Trunchbull. She has a habit of stealing the scenes that she is in but rightly so – she fully becomes the Trunchbull, with sometimes chilling accuracy – and by that I mean what we expect a tyrant headmaster to be. There is also a lot of joy from the fun of a kids ensemble, especially for all the big musical numbers. I found myself wondering quite a few times why I wasn’t in the movie. Speaking of big musical numbers – Lashana Lynch’s singing voice is a total revelation that had me in floods of tears in the end.
The fact that this version of Matilda is the book, film and musical combined means everything is bigger and more exaggerated in the best possible way. The musical numbers are bigger, the stunts are bigger and the development of Miss Honey’s backstory is a genius addition to this familiar story. But there are also smaller moments too which sprinkle magic on this piece. Matilda’s recurring musical theme of writing her own story and not succumbing to bullies, is as touching as it is relevant. The scenes between Matilda and Mrs Phelps, who have their adventures through stories, play to the fantastical whilst preserving their precious relationship.
Whether you’re a Matilda fan or not, this is well worth a watch. A delicate story retold with just the right amount of whimsy and imagination to give it the fresh take that it needs.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical is released in UK cinemas 25th November