Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical
A screen adaptation of the gargantuan, critically and commercially successful stage musical of Roald Dahl’s beloved 1988 children’s classic, Matilda the Musical is a kaleidoscopic, glittering piece of entertainment. Glued together by Tim Minchin’s musical dexterity, the film strikes the extraordinarily diverse emotional beats present in Dahl’s bibliography.
The wondrous catharsis of Matilda’s character, the joyous fantasy and the loveliness of Miss Honey, all feel elevated in the glitzy sheen of a record-breaking stage musical (it received the most amount of Olivier Awards won in a single year), while the darkness that inflects so much of Dahl’s work still booms (Minchin’s song introducing the Dickensian Crunchem Hall to Matilda is a particular high point). The almost nightmarish quality inherent in Dahl’s story does lurk further behind the waggishly charming lustre of its veneer, however, particularly when assessed next to the 1996 Danny DeVito classic, still the definitive screen version of the story.
Still, Matilda the Musical offers a different texture, a different slant, to a new generation. It is naturally a film whose aesthetics and production values are up in the clouds, with enthrallingly elaborate musical set pieces and bold colour schemes. While DeVito’s Matilda had a family unit whose relative realism made Matilda’s traumatic domestic circumstance seem shockingly affecting for a children’s film, the set design of the Wormwood household, as well as Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough’s incarnations of Matilda’s parents, feel directed to the precipice of distracting caricature, but the conviction of their performances never allows them to be anything other than entertaining.
Alisha Weir puts her stamp on the beloved titular character for her breakout role, a feat that cannot be sniffed at. She nails the spiky mischief of her telekinetic child prodigy, ramping it up to a peak we haven’t yet seen on the screen, while Emma Thompson indulges in heaps of thespian delight which consumes the screen, although her take on the trauma-inducing, beastly headmistress makes you more aware you are watching a loud, swelled burlesque of an archetype than Pam Ferris’s frightening realisation.
The best casting choice, however, is Lashana Lynch, who continues to show her range after the biting, physical gusto of her turn in No Time to Die, although, strangely, her grace in that role may have signposted a performance in this register more so than one may have immediately thought.
It is quite an achievement that Matilda the Musical embraces its showy roots without ever feeling stagey or distractingly manufactured, although it is designed to an absolute tee. It breezes along on a cloud without getting anchored by the weight of expectation or comparison, and romps its way to its trimmed-down two-hour duration in what feels like half the time, and reflects the mischief and childish brass neck of Weir’s luminous Matilda.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is released in UK cinemas on 25th November 2022.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical here: