Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical – based on the brilliant Broadway/West End show – achieves these goals with spectacular success. Director Matthew Warchus (Pride), scriptwriter Dennis Kelly (The Third Day), and songwriter Tim Minchin – the trio who adapted the story onto the stage – reunite to craft a colourful, spirit-raising musical that kids and grown-ups will watch and rewatch for years to come.
Lashana Lynch and Alisha Weir as Miss Honey and Matilda. Photo: Sony
Unlike every other child, Matilda Wormwood (a sweet yet rebellious Alisha Weir) is not a miracle. She's more of an inconvenience. Her parents (the hilarious, cartoonish Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough) scorn their daughter for her books and her morals. Matilda escapes her elders via great literature: spending just one week chewing Dickens, Dostoyevsky and Dr Seuss, accessed via a mobile library driven by the fiction-obsessed Mrs Phelps (Sindhu Vee).
Mr and Mrs Wormwood forget to send Matilda to school – rectified after a home visit by the kind and caring Miss Honey, who sees something special in that well-read girl. Lashana Lynch provides such warmth, such love as Miss Honey, revealing the actor's emotional range after a rough and tough turn in No Time to Die.
But Crunchem Hall is not the educational Eden that Matilda expects. The school has a bleak regime enforced by the athlete-turned-headmistress Miss Trunchbull, a massive, muscly dictator who can swing and throw children by their hair. Emma Thompson is risibly detestable in the role, under heavy prosthetics that only amplify Trunchbull's sneers and revulsions at the children she despises.
It's the sort of remote institution that Dickens would've built: outside is like a castle; inside is a prison. And Trunchbull has her own modifications, constructing an Orwellian nightmare of discipline with surveillance cameras, inhuman punishments, and the unforgettable school motto: ‘Children are maggots’.
Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchbull. Photo: Sony
Immediately, it’s clear that this delightful musical surpasses Danny DeVito’s 1996 efforts. The opening immediately kicks into action with a Wes Anderson palette (yellow and symmetrical) in the most idealistic NHS hospital ever imagined. Newborn babies smile up at their parents, singing Miracle without using their mouths.
This critic often loathes movie musicals because the choreography doesn’t match the editing or the camera movements. Thankfully, the rhythms of Warchus's visuals match those of the songs – plunging into a paradise of synchronicity. And there’s never a dull dance, each song packed with riotous fun as much as psychological torment from childhood powerlessness.
But it's When I Grow Up that pushes out the tears. As the musical's most affecting track, it gels the ex-fantasies formed as children with the dire realities of adulthood. Miss Honey reflects the latter beautifully, in a forgivably absurd backstory outlining her own lack of confidence. The children suffer the same timidity, exacerbated by Trunchbull’s abuse. Standing up to bullies is a clichéd message, but here it’s a crushing, fulfilling fight.
With the onslaught of depressing news cycles, it’s easy to resume cynicism. But Warchus, Kelly and Minchin make that submission impossible. You want to rise against it like the children, that vigour culminating in the concluding banger Revolting Children. In a scene where Trunchbull shouts at Matilda in the rain, the latter dissociates and imagines herself in a hammock on a hot-air balloon, ascending into a cloudless sky. The film as a whole achieves the same level of escapist pleasure.
Reviewed at the London Film Festival 2022. Matilda will be in UK cinemas on Friday 25 November.
|What||Matilda (2022) review|
25 Nov 22 – 25 Nov 23, IN CINEMAS
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