Roald Dahl’s classic is given the Spielberg treatment, which produces some modifications to the original text, in an entertaining film that is aimed squarely at children while offering few comic concessions for adults. Mark Rylance gives a brilliant, emotive performance as the 24-feet tall BFG, while 11-year-old first-timer Ruby Barnhill holds her own in a difficult role acting opposite a CGI giant. Rylance’s BFG is one of the best instances of motion capture that has been yet put to screen, and the general level of technical wizardry on show is astounding. But the film lacks a gripping narrative, and the bizarre third act that takes place at Buckingham Palace (Penelope Wilton plays the Queen very straight) translates oddly to screen, disrupting the pace and tone built up in the early scenes in Giant Country.
The film begins with Sophie, a precocious, highly literate insomniac, awake in the early hours of the morning, hiding from the staff who look after her in the orphanage. One night she spots the BFG, delivering dreams to sleeping Londoners. The BFG whisks Ruby away to Giant Country, afraid of blowing his cover. There, the pair come under suspicion from a bullying, “bean-eating” gang of the BFG’s fellow giants, led by the evil cockney Fleshlumpeater (voiced with relish by erstwhile Flight of the Conchords‘ star, Jermaine Clement). Sophie and the BFG must use their common humanity to repel the gang’s thuggish incursions, seeking help from the Queen and her personal assistant Mary (a very small role for Rebecca Hall).
The action sequences are a marvel of skill and technical competence, and Barnhill is suitably punchy and cool playing the brave, self-sufficient little girl, strangely undeterred by the astonishing events wrought by her chance meeting with a beautiful, frightening world of giants. But London in contrast is rendered in a very suspect manner, containing the usual landmarks and quirks gobbled up by international audiences. And for all the ability on show, the film lacks a theme that is truly interesting – hopes, dreams and magic are not quite satisfactory – and it’s difficult to get away from the feeling that Dahl’s original tale loses something of its charm and sharpness when shifted to the big screen.
The BFG is released nationwide on 22nd July 2016.
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Watch the trailer for The BFG here: