Arriving into UK cinemas today, and landing on Netflix in the US on Christmas Day, is the children’s musical fantasy film, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (or Matilda the Musical for short). The movie – directed by Matthew Warchus – stars Alisha Weir, Lashana Lynch, Stephen Graham, Andrea Riseborough, Sindhu Vee, and Emma Thompson, and tells the story of a young girl with magical abilities and an exceptional intellect.
In the movie, Matilda Wormwood is a child genius, who is charming, polite, and should be loved and adored by her parents. However, Matilda’s mother and father want very little to do with her, and treat Matilda like a hugely inconvenient problem in their lives.
And this is a problem which only gets worse for the Wormwoods, when they are approached by the local authorities, who are keen to know why Matilda isn’t attending school. She has passed the age where she should be in education, and Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood are set to get into trouble unless they can rectify the situation.
Keen to make the problem go away as quickly as possible, Mr. Wormwood informs Matilda that she will be off to the local school, Crunchem Hall, the following day. This pleases Matilda immensely, until her father informs her that Crunchem Hall is run by tyrannical former shot-putter, Miss Agatha Trunchbull.
Worried about what she might face, but excited nonetheless, Matilda attends school the next morning, where she meets her classmates and her teacher, the delightful Miss. Honey. But Matilda’s excitement soon disperses when she comes face-to-face with Miss. Trunchbull, who is every bit the monstrous bully she imagined.
In order for Matilda to survive school she will have to find a way to stand up to Miss. Trunchbull. But with the vile headmistress proving particularly difficult to contend with, Matilda will have to call on some hidden talents to give her the edge.
As you may or may not be aware, Matilda the Musical is based on a 2010 stage show, which in turn is based on a book – simply called Matilda – by children’s author, Roald Dahl. The book has been adapted for the big screen previously, in the form of a comedy starring Mara Wilson and Danny DeVito, but this latest adaptation is firmly based on the stage show.
So, if you’ve seen the previous movie version of Matilda, then you’ve not seen this version. Sure, they share the same source material, and cover a similar story, but they are quite different beasts.
While the first film was a family comedy, which largely played its story straight, this new film is very much an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza. The picture is loaded with toe-tappin’ songs, packed to the rafters with choreography, and features an all-new cast, as well as various tweaks to the story.
Matilda the Musical also has one very clear distinction: It is really, really good. As much as I like the original film, and it will always maintain a place in my heart, this new movie is simply better.
If you’re reading this review, wondering whether to take your kids to see Matilda the Musical, then let me tell you now, you really should. Collect them from school, bundle them into the back of your car, and drive down to your nearest cinema.
Matilda the Musical is a delightful, uplifting picture, which is bright, fun, and truly satisfying. It takes the story and the spirit of the book, mixes them together with the songs and energy of the stage show, and creates a wonderful film for the whole family.
Newcomer Alisha Weir is thrust into the spotlight as Matilda, and she leads the whole movie magnificently. She’s sweet, yet determined, focused yet likeable, and she captures the character of Matilda perfectly.
There are many reasons as to why Matilda the Musical is as good as it is, but Weir is certainly one of them. Given the right opportunities, I expect she will go on to big things in the future, but right now she is a true gem in this picture.
Joining Weir in the movie are Stephen Graham as the despicable Mr. Wormwood, and Andrea Riseborough as his equally vile wife. Both actors are great in the film, especially when making Matilda’s life a misery, and even though their screen time is limited, they relish every second.
Meanwhile, Lashana Lynch pops up as the magnificent Miss. Honey, a true shining beacon in the darker moments of the story, while Sindhu Vee offers some additional warmth in the role of friendly librarian Mrs. Phelps. And then there is Emma Thompson, who pretty much steals the movie as Agatha Trunchbull.
Given a make-over (or rather, a make-under), Thompson is amazing in this film. Truly, truly amazing.
If you loved what Pam Ferris did with Trunchbull in the ’96 version of Matilda, then expect to be blown away by Thompson’s performance in this new film. Mean, nasty, unhinged, and completely odious, this latest take on Trunchbull is everything you imagine a headmistress from Hell to be, and then some!
Kids will fear her, adults will be squirming in their sears, and no one will claim she is anything less than terrifying. Thompson’s Trunchbull is a sight to behold, and proof that this character can be a stand-out role for the right actor.
In the same way comic-book villain, the Joker, has become a role that credible actors actively want to play, because it can get them closer to Oscar glory, Thompson has proved that Trunchbull could achieve a similar goal. I’m telling you now, give it a few years, and actors will be lining up to play Trunchbull in a Netflix series, or another movie adaptation of the book, with their eyes set on awards season.
Outside of Thompson, and the rest of the cast, who are all excellent, Matilda the Musical benefits from great songs, courtesy of Tim Minchin; some imaginative ideas and scenery; and plenty (and I mean plenty) of heart. The film also has a rollickin’ good finale, a welcome dose of humour, and enough story from writer Dennis Kelly to keep the whole thing going from start to finish.
Sure, there are a few moments here and there, where the film gets a little bit too theatrical, bordering on Annie territory, but these moments are a reminder of the movie’s stage background, and they largely come and go. Either way, any minor issues become lost in the mix thanks to the sheer amount of good stuff in the film!
This week has been a big week for movies, with Disney releasing Strange World as a picture suitable for younger audiences, but if you’re heading to the cinema this weekend (and you live in the UK), my recommendation is that you watch Matilda the Musical. The kids will love it, and if you are ready for a spot of singing and dancing, then you’ll love it too.
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