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Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical


Stars: Alisha Weir, Emma Thompson, Lashana Lynch, Stephen Graham, Andrea Riseborough, Sindhu Vee, Charlie Hodson-Prior, Carl Spencer

Director: Matthew Warchus

More of a pantomime Christmas show than a proper film, this adaptation of the stage success lacks pace and flow in the first half, but improves quite a bit in the second. Performances are, to say the least, whole-hearted, but, like the England World Cup football team against the USA, huff and puff without achieving a lot.

Matilda (Irish child player Weir) is a small (seven? eight?) girl with a big IQ, who does complex maths equations for fun and reads such books as Tess of the Durbervilles and The Grapes of Wrath. She lives with her impossibly tasteless parents (Graham & Riseborough, both taking a break from heavy drama) who, threatened by authorities over her 'home schooling', enrol Matilda at a real school.

This turns out to be Crunchem Hall, the co-ed equivalent of Dickens' Dotheboys Hall from Nicholas Nickleby (which Matilda probably read at five), lorded over by an unrecognisable Thompson as Agatha Trunchbull, a former Olympic shot-putter, who calls her pupils 'maggots' and has installed a school motto of 'No snivelling'.

Needless to say, Matilda soon turns the tables on her, especially after discovering her gift for kinetically moving objects around. In between, she tells the travelling librarian (Vee) vivid stories culled from a truth she couldn't possibly know.

It's not easy to tell whether some of the cast can sing here, since the vocal numbers - none of which are memorable with the possible exception of When I Grow Up - are more recitals than songs, including the frenziedly edited choral numbers, which must feature pretty well every child of appropriate age currently at a UK drama school.

Lynch, though (as the treacle-sweet Miss Honey), obviously has the purest voice, although Weir and Thompson can both probably hold a tune. Weir has just the right look as Matilda, and certainly gives the part some welly, while Thompson - when Miss Honey mentions the kids deserve 'patience and respect', she snarls 'How dare you bring those words into my classroom?' - is so far over the top she practically disappears over the turrets of the school roof.

David Quinlan

UK/USA 2022. UK Distributor: Sony (Tri-Star). Colour (unspecified).
118 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 25 Nov 2022