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Matilda the Musical
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Matthew Warchus
scr Dennis Kelly
prd Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Jon Finn, Luke Kelly
with Alisha Weir, Emma Thompson, Lashana Lynch, Andrea Riseborough, Stephen Graham, Sindhu Vee, Carl Spencer, Lauren Alexandra, Winter Jarrett-Glasspool, Andrei Shin, Meesha Garbett, Charlie Hodson-Prior
release UK 25.Nov.22,
22/UK TriStar 1h57
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A candy-coloured adaptation of the classic novel, this energetic musical washes Ronald Dahl's blackly comical approach in sparky exuberance, vividly conveying the power of imagination. With added magic of course. Director Matthew Warchus takes an almost cartoonishly fantastical approach, but manages to ground the story in nuanced performances and the occasional gritty real-life touch. And undercurrents of emotion and intelligence in the songs draw us in further.
Utterly misunderstood by her narrow-minded opportunistic parents (Riseborough and Graham), the naturally bright Matilda (Weir) educates herself with the help of story-loving librarian Mrs Phelps (Vee). But eventually, she has to go to school-school at Crunchem Hall. Teacher Miss Honey (Lynch) is lovely, but the older girls are menacing, and child-loathing headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Thompson) is downright monstrous. When Matilda calls her out as a bully, Trunchbull vows to crush her, setting off a battle of wits that escalates in outrageous directions. Indeed, Matilda is getting a proper education in how adults think.
Smart songs by Tim Minchin add a range of knowing layers to the story, drawing out Dahl's pointed exploration of the chasm between children and grown-ups, which in this case begins to feel like all-out war. A range of big emotions echoes through a powerfully involving parallel fairy tale that Matilda spins about an escapologist (Spencer) and his acrobat wife (Alexandra). Everything gets a little overwrought in the final act, but kids will thoroughly enjoy the mayhem's nasty edge and the celebratory child-empowerment that infuses the plot.
The gifted Weir is an explosion of brains and mischief, making Matilda a compelling hero who is fun to root for as she takes on her nemesis. Going gleefully broad, Riseborough and Graham are hilariously trashy as her wretched parents. As the only understanding adults, both Lynch and Vee offer openly heartfelt turns as women who teach Matilda compassion. And an almost unrecognisable Thompson delivers a spectacularly scene-stealing turn that's packed with surprises.
A powerful sense of injustice infuses this story, as Matilda battles against people who cheat to get ahead or justify their cruelty. And the story provocatively explores how we can be victims of pre-written narratives about us. Matilda's true superpower is her ability to break the boxes people try to push her into. So the film challenges us to escape expectations, write a happier story, respect others and live a truthful life. And Matilda also reminds us that "sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty".
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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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