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Matilda The Musical: Charming, engaging and fantastical

Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical is now a film, but is its fantastical depiction of England too twee? Isy Barrs finds out.

Matilda the musical

When Matilda The Musical opened in Stratford-Upon-Avon back in 2010, its success amongst audiences and critics quickly prompted conversations about a film adaptation. With this comes risks; a story filled with fantastical elements, over-the-top performances and many child actors could easily miss its landing.

Thankfully, Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical (RDMTM) is charming and engaging, and director Matthew Warchus has done an excellent job of bringing it to the screen.

The adaptation mostly follows the same story as the original novel. Matilda Wormwood is an exceptionally bright little girl, who is disliked immensely by her parents. When starting school for the first time, her kind teacher Miss Honey’s attempts to nurture her talents are quashed by the school's headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, a formidable former Olympic hammer thrower, who wishes to crush the spirit of every child she possibly can.

But Matilda’s spirit is not easily crushed - and she soon discovers she has a power that can put things right.

When watching RDMTM, it’s clear that the Paddington series of films has a lot to answer for. Its similarly quirky and fantastical depiction of England at times becomes too twee, not quite having the charm of Paddington. But Warchus’ direction is admirable. The scenes with hundreds of children that could easily veer into chaos are utterly joyous, with songs like ‘The Hammer’ and ‘Revolting Children’ providing some of the best moments of the film.

The highlight of the film is Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchbull. Fierce and unhinged, she is an absolute delight to watch as she terrorises Matilda and her classmates. Although the casting of Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough as Matilda’s parents seems inspired, some of the scenes showing their abuse of Matilda clash with the fantastical tone of the film. Casting an actor like Graham, who has played some genuinely terrifying characters, could make these scenes too upsetting to watch for some.

RDMTM is mostly charming and engaging for viewers of all ages, and the credit for this undeniably goes to Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics. Veering from funny to heartbreaking but always remaining clever, it’s hard to deny that the original musical – let alone the film adaptation – would have completely fallen apart if it wasn’t for the ridiculously high standard of the music.

Whilst not all parts of the film ultimately hold up, it’s almost certain to be a Christmas hit. The story of a magical little girl’s enduring spirit will continue to inspire children – much like it once inspired this critic many years ago.

by Isy Barrs (she/her)
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