Adapted from the long-running theatrical run, this uneven but sporadically enjoyable film marries Dahl’s darkness with Tim Minchin’s cut-and-too-British lyrics.
It opens with Miracle, a massive song-and-dance routine in the maternity ward, in which the exuberant Busby Berkeley-influenced show collides with the lyrical misrepresentation of the new parents’ egos. When one of the children grows up to be an abused child, Minchin delivers his catchiest song.
“Just because you find life ain’t fair, it / Doesn’t mean you have to just smile and put up with it / If you always take it on your chin and wear it / Nothing’s going to change,” sings sweet Matilda Wormwood (Alisha Weir) who has been banished to the attic by her despicable parents (Andrea Riseborough and Stephen Graham).
After casually demolishing a more famous sermon on the virtues of “the meek”, Matilda takes her revolutionary stance and telekinetic powers (she can move objects with her mind) to her first school.
There, she finds out that the school bully is the principal. Miss Trunchbull, former hammer throwing champion (Emma Thompson knocks her out with prostheses) puts naughty kids in cells and launches innocent little girls across the playground alongside pigtails.
The kids, the lyrics and the choreography are great. However, Matthew Warkus (who also directed the stage play) is trying his hardest to fill the big screen. Instead of giving up a few songs to give his characters some breathing room, he ups the ante with fun fairs, hot air balloons, and kids on motorbikes.
I missed the measured sweetness of the DeVito version. Over the course of two breathless hours, this Matilda can be a little exhausting.
- Roald Dahl’s musical Matilda, Sert PG, is in cinemas now