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REVIEW: Matilda is music to your ears

December 26th, 2022 8:00 AM

By Dylan Mangan

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ROALD DAHL'S Matilda: The Musical has long been a West End hit, having entertained London crowds for the past 11 years.

Director Matthew Warchus has now adapted the Tony and Olivier award-winning musical for the big screen in what is a refreshingly fun and positive cinema experience.

If you don't know the story by now: Matilda is a gifted youngster who can match most adults in intelligence, and surpass others like her parents. She goes to a school headed by the horrible Ms Trunchbull, who hates all children and loves letting them know about it.

Matilda becomes close with a teacher at the school, Ms Honey, and decides to take down Trunchbull.

For those of us less attuned to the latest from the West End, our main memory of Matilda and her family still comes from the Danny DeVito-directed film from 1996, which transported the characters from middle England to middle America.

It might take a minute or two to get used to the cheeky chappy accent sported by Matilda's father, played brilliantly by Stephen Graham, who somehow manages to be completely over the top without ever going off the edge.

The same can be said for many of the performances in the film.

Emma Thompson plays the evil Ms Trunchbull wonderfully, although she comes across less sinister and more caricature than her counterpart from the 1996 film.

Comedy is heightened by her movement and makeup which makes her almost unrecognisable in the role.

The true star of the show is the lead — Alisha Weir as Matilda.

Holding together a film as frantic as this is no mean feat, and the director relies on Weir's performance to ground the film, returning to her and to familiar musical motifs at every possible moment to make sure we don't veer too far from the story.

One mistake the film industry tends to make when casting is asking people to play characters that are almost a generation younger than they are.

There are plenty of reasons for this — children under 18 can't work full days, and including them likely complicates already complex shooting schedules — but it can become ridiculous at times.

Tom Holland plays a Spiderman who is supposed to be 15 in the more recent Marvel films, Olivia Newton John and John Travolta are supposed to be 17 in Grease, while Ben Platt reprised his role as the 17-year-old title character in Dear Evan Hansen ten years after his original run on the West End.

Matilda: The Musical doesn't make the same error. OK, Alisha Weir was 11 or so at the time of filming and Matilda is supposed to be 6/7, but the difference is far more believable than fully-grown adults with plastic surgery playing awkward teenagers.

In fact, the entire cast of children are brilliant throughout, and give the film the zip and energy that can be difficult to translate from stage to screen.

The music, written by Tim Minchin, is just the right level of earworm that will stay with you for days without ever getting too irritating, and adds so much to the familiar story.

In the end, the film is exactly what you would expect from a Roald Dahl musical. It's full of mischief and fun, with mean adults taken down by smart kids.

Maybe we should all have a little more of the spirit of Matilda in us.

The Six Degrees of West Cork

Emma Thompson plays Ms Trunchbull in this film, but one of her early breakout roles came in the 1993 classic In The Name Of The Father, which was directed by none other than Jim Sheridan, who spent years visiting West Cork while filming his recent documentary series about the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

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