The record-breaking Matilda The Musical gets a sensational movie adaption
A young girl with a genius intellect escapes her bullying parents to help her classmates rise up against Miss Trunchbull, the abusive headmistress of Crunchem Hall. Do I need to say more? Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Roald Dahl’s Matilda? I won’t pretend it’s possible to watch this film without comparing it to the iterations that have come before it. A much-loved children’s book that was made into a much-loved film may have seemed like it didn’t need another version made, but fear not, Matilda the Musical is pure movie magic, and there’s enough new content to keep returning audiences as entranced as those who are new to the story.
It brings on board all of the original crew from the record-breaking successful stage show with a screenplay by Dennis Kelly, original songs from Tim Minchin and direction from Matthew Warchus. Aside from his incredible theatre career Warchus previously directed one of my ultimate feel-good movies of the last few years – 2014’s Pride – so he immediately seems a reliable pair of hands to adapt what for many in my generation was their ultimate comfort story.
The cast include brilliant young newcomer Alisha Weir as Matilda, Stephen Graham and Andrew Riseborough as her parents the Wormwoods, James Bond’s Lashana Lynch as Miss Honey and British screen royalty Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchbull. It’s a faultless ensemble completed by over 200 insanely talented children playing the pupils of Crunchem Hall. Matthew Warchus has surely emptied out all the stage schools in the UK for this mammoth production. It’s a proper, big screen spectacle.
An opening technicolour hospital scene featuring singing babies and disco doctors sets the scene for a film that is steeped in magical realism from start to finish. That surreal sense of detachment and fantasy absolutely necessary in order to accomplish what is really quite a tricky thing – making a lighthearted, fun film about child abuse.
The air of magic surrounding Matilda is only heightened by it’s astonishingly playful sets and cinematography. Her gold lamé hellhole of a house gives Danny Devito’s a serious run for it’s money, but it’s Crunchem Hall that is the real highlight of the film, an ominous space that literally gets darker whenever Miss Trunchbull is on screen. ‘’It’s not a school it’s a prison’’ squeaks one of Matilda’s classmates on her first day, and the production designers have reliably captured the terrifying air of an actual gulag – complete with signage and Soviet inspired statues.
The songs are absolutely electric; catchy, slyly funny and paired with dizzyingly complicated dance numbers. It’s a film packed full of brilliant performances, not least Emma Thompson who is clearly having the time of her life stomping around in Miss Trunchbull’s hammer throwing boots and swinging kids around by their pigtails. Young Alisha Weir makes Matilda feel like a fresh character, not just a child genius but a leader, a rebel, an actual child revolutionary – inspiring the memorable, masterstroke song of the film, Minchin’s ‘revolting children.’
The standout performance in a very strong bunch belongs to Lashana Lynch’s Miss Honey, who delivers a heart wrenchingly beautiful vocal and emotional performance with her solo number ‘my house.’ Where much of the movie has a hint of the fairytale about it, her wide-eyed performance and delivery of her tragic backstory feels so honest, so genuinely human, that it cuts right through the fantasy to make this feel like a very real story indeed. Miss Honey and Matilda’s final scenes had me in absolute floods of tears for what must have been the whole of the last 20 minutes.
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Like so many others I have spent the last few years telling anyone that will listen that Paddington 2 is the greatest family film made in the last decade. I’m going to make a bold claim here and say that Matilda the Musical absolutely matches it. A fantastic piece of escapism that is somehow more magical that either of its previous already very good iterations. It’s heart soaring, joyful, perfection.
Matilda The Musical is out in UK cinemas on 25th November 2022 before heading to Netflix on Christmas Day