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Splendid movie version of the hit musical that refuses to pull its punches

Review: ROALD DAHL'S MATILDA THE MUSICAL, UK cinemas Review: ROALD DAHL'S MATILDA THE MUSICAL, UK cinemas Born to reliably hideous Dahlian parents (Stephen Graham, in Jurgen Kloppish dentures, and Andrea Riseborough, both in scenery-chewing form) a girl discovers that her mind has powers beyond even its considerable cognitive development. Sent to school, she leads a revolution, conjures a compelling biography through intuition and lives happily ever after. It's all done with such verve, Matthew Warchus demanding that we hang on to his breakneck direction, not ask too many questions and boo and cheer when he all but holds up signs for us. I did - I think you will too.

We get an early glimpse of what is to come in Matilda's house, all ice cream pastel shades, but with Mondrians on the walls, their straight lines and enclosed spaces foretelling her fate. Soon she's off to Crunchem Hall (Dahl's gift for names as transfixing as was Dickens', to whom he is an obvious successor) and the terrifying Miss Trunchbull, but our heroine knows how to be naughty and isn't afraid to sum two wrongs into a right. Cue mayhem, a very clever tale within a tale that lifts the narrative beyond the predictable and hugs. Big hugs.

I think we can all agree that British politics would be a rather less dysfunctional space without the pernicious influence of the English public school, but where would British culture be? Dahl went to Repton and Crunchem Hall has all the trappings of such an establishment - it's so familiar we don't have to suffered inside ourselves to know what it does to its child inmates because half of British movies appear to be set within their walls or made by those trying to escape their lingering influence.

Shot with a nod or two to both Olympia and Triumph Of The Will, Emma Thompson goes full fascist as the psychotic headmistress, no chance missed to remind us of Fräulein Riefenstahl's hero. More troublingly, do we need another childless, post-menopausal woman presented as a threat to adults and children alike? A trope of fairytales for sure, but surely too easy in these more enlightened times?

Offsetting those horrors, Lashana Lynch is sweetness leavened with sorrow as the sympatico teacher, Miss Honey, and Alisha Weir is splendid as our eponymous kid with Carrie's powers of telekinesis. Maybe it was her uncanny resemblance to Catherine Clinch, star of the brilliant Irish movie, The Quiet Girl, that drew me to the parallels between the two movies, very different but both comfortably in the top five I've seen this year.

Such is the strength of Dennis Kelly's adaptation that the catchy and clever songs almost pass you by, but it's here that Tim Minchin injects the power of transgression into the narrative, how civil disobedience is justified, how a collective can take down a tyrant. If the choreography is a little lacklustre at times (Everybody's Talking About Jamie made a better job of kids tearing up a school through the medium of dance) there's plenty enough to be thinking about while the toes are tapping.

This Matilda may not be in the absolute front rank of either British stage musicals brought to the screen nor Dahl's work adapted for the cinema, but the bar in both those categories is set very high indeed (Oliver! and Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory FFS!) but it's a tremendous watch for all the family that refuses to talk down to its audience and preserves the edge that characterises Dahl's best work. Consider that a trigger warning.

Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical is on general release

Image Credit: 2022 Sony Pictures

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From This Author - Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief London reviewer for BroadwayWorld ( and feels privileged to... (read more about this author)

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