Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (2022)

Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, 2022. 

Directed by Matthew Warchus
Starring Alisha Weir, Lashana Lynch, Emma Thompson, Andrea Riseborough, Stephen Graham, and Sindhu Vee


An adaptation of the Tony and Olivier award-winning musical. Matilda tells the story of an extraordinary girl who, armed with a sharp mind and a vivid imagination, dares to take a stand to change her story with miraculous results.

Are we now calling this the Roald Dahl Cinematic Universe? The opening titles seem to think so, giving Matilda an exciting new golden ticket logo to suggest that there’s more to come from the darkness flecked pages of the author’s uniquely marvellous world.

We’ve already had a muted Spielberg attempt at doing Dahl with The BFG, and that was followed by Robert Zemeckis’ hollow eyed take on The Witches, while Timothée Chalamet has been dancing along the Cornish coast in a top hat filming Chocolate Factory prequel Wonka.

What makes this version of Matilda stand out like the smartest kid in the class is that this is Dahl’s beloved 1988 story filtered through the songs of Tim Minchin, and then transferred to the stage, resulting in a seemingly unanimous critical and commercial response. Will Tony Award-winning director Matthew Warchus’ big-screen adaptation achieve the same level of love, or will the audience reaction be so quiet that you could of heard a fly burp?

Well, if you’re a fan of Hard Knock Life style over-earnest musical performances then Matilda will be your tempo from the moment the theatrical opening number dials up the colour palette and performances to eleven. For the rest of the audience who’re perhaps not in-tune, Dennis Kelly’s script has to work a little harder for you to look beyond the Britain’s Got Talent vibe and fully embrace the story.

Having said that his job and your enjoyment is made a darn sight easier by the levels of performance from the cast. If you feel like you’ve been thrown in at the deep end at drama school during the choreographed chaos of the introduction, the moment Andrea Riseborough shows up as Matilda‘s reluctant mum-to-be, playing completely against type as a make-up caked, lycra-clad lady-of-luxury, you get an idea of the heightened tone that’s to follow. And that’s all before the equally brilliant Stephen Graham enters stage left with his pearly-white teeth and one-liners. 

Admittedly they’re a couple of caricatures straight out of kids television, but don’t forget that amongst whatever grumbling criticism can be found within this review, Matilda is quintessentially a film for the ankle-biters, and they’ll be in fits of giggles at Graham’s green hair and inability to accept that his daughter isn’t a boy. So it’s down to the core trio of newcomer Alisha Weir, Lashana Lynch, and the inimitable Emma Thompson to be at the heart of everything that’s good about Matilda.

The latter is like a live-action Studio Ghibli character, her prosthetics conjuring up images of Spirited Away‘s Yubaba, while her performance has an air of Dolores Umbridge about it. As the headmistress who desires to “crush them until the wriggling stops”, and who at one point tosses a girl from the schoolyard by her pig-tails, Thompson has created a Trunchbull for the ages, one that very much marries with the wicked intentions of the author. 

As her maggoty nemesis and the titular telekinetic schoolgirl, Weir has perhaps the hardest job of the lot in carrying the movie. She needs to walk a fine line between precocious talent and vulnerable kid, and no amount of great singing, of which she does plenty, is going to help should her performance mirror the “brat” that Turnbull labels her character to be. Thankfully Weir works in tandem with the movie, finding her feet at about the same time Matilda finds her cause, so that when the film’s triumphant conclusion comes around you’re willing to climb up onto the desk with her. 

For all of Tim Minchin’s wonderful tunes, of which ‘When I Grow Up’ is both the best song and sequence, although it’s run pretty close by the energetic ‘Revolting Children’, Matilda‘s MVP is undoubtedly Lashana Lynch. As Miss Honey she adds real weight to the OTT theatrics, grounding any stage-show trappings within this new medium by giving a real human performance. It also helps that she can’t half hold a tune, and that her character gets to be a real positive role model for taken-for-granted teachers everywhere. 

Bright and breezy like a talent show finale rather than the dark-delight you might have hoped it would be, Matilda‘s overriding message of positivity and respect should be lauded as much as its terrific set of performances. Just keep telling yourself that this one’s for the kids. 

Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★

Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter


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