Matilda the Musical (The Movie) Review
The act of turning movies into musicals is commonplace these days, and over the years a number of musicals have gone the other way, jumping from the stage onto screens up and down the country. From Mamma Mia to Dear Evan Hansen, I’m sure that I am not the only one thinking that sometimes stage musical movie adaptations work and sometimes they don’t.
The latest stage production to receive the silver screen treatment is Roald Dahl’s Matilda the musical, and let’s say this straight away. This might just set the precedent for all future adaptations, and this is how you make something new and exciting whilst staying true to the source material and honouring the show itself.
Based on the 1996 movie, Matilda the musical tells the story of an extraordinary little girl with an extraordinary mind. Matilda may be small, but she is mighty; extremely clever and unafraid. Faced with the hardship of parents who do not appreciate what they have in their daughter and a headmistress who believes that all children are maggots and need to be ferociously disciplined, Matilda stands up for herself and her classmates in a David versus Goliath tale of right and wrong which sees her use her magical mind to put the grown-ups well and truly in their place.
Matilda the musical premiered in 2010 and has recently celebrated 11 years in London’s famous West End and with this movie, I can see it gaining a new lease of life and a further growth in popularity. After all, in my opinion, a good musical adaptation should not become an alternative to the show but instead a partner to it, something that entertains in cinemas and at home whilst encouraging the viewer to want to see the show live in the flesh.
Anyone who has seen the stage show of Matilda the musical will know that it features some brilliant stage trickery, clever sets, and beautifully intricate choreography and this movie takes all of that and elevates it, bigger, better, and more beautiful. Crunchem Hall becomes a once grand building which is now a maze of run-down corridors, obstacle courses and prison like dining halls. Matilda’s family home is a blur of outlandish colours other than her dark and dim attic bedroom. Her sanctuary of a library is a van that can be parked up in a variety of beautiful locations and Matilda’s story of the escapologist and the acrobat is brought to life in a technicolour dream of circuses and excitement.
When it comes to the casting, let’s be honest here. Much alike with the stage show, Matilda the musical is a star making machine for the young talent of tomorrow. Alisha Weir takes on the role of Matilda here, and shines. Matilda is a character who experiences a whirlwind of emotion, the trauma of neglect by her parents and the fear caused by the monstrous Miss Trunchball, along with her passion for stories and learning that when combined bring out her true power. Weir illustrates all of that in her performance and impresses with her sweet vocals throughout.
Weir is accompanied by a large ensemble of incredibly talented children, who all shine in their own right in a collection of dance numbers that would challenge even the most advanced of adult performers. Charlie Hodson-Prior’s Bruce is instantly lovable, alongside Winter Jarrett-Glasspool’s pigtail wearing Amanda Thripp, Rei Yamauci Fulkar’s adorable Lavender, Andrei Shen’s adventurous Eric and Ashton Robertson’s sweet Nigel. I wish I could celebrate every child performer but that would take a very long time, but of course I have to mention Meesha Garbett (AKA TikTok’s famous ‘red beret girl’) who plays the role of older student Hortensia with sass and flair, with the very much popular girl vibes.
In terms of the adult cast, Lashana Lynch is a delight as the kindhearted Miss Honey, very much becoming a hero to Matilda and making the role her own. Her rendition of ‘My House’ is simply sublime. Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough are a fine pair as the horrid Mr and Mrs Wormwood, a perfect love to hate them performance, Sindhu Vee impresses as Mrs Phelps, the librarian who always supports young Matilda and Carl Spencer makes an emotional punch as Magnus the escapologist.
In the lead up to the film’s release, there was one part of the casting that I’ll admit to not being convinced by and that was the casting of Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchball. Seeing that this is an adaptation of the stage show, this felt like a big step away from it. On stage, the role is famously played by a guy in drag, and I couldn’t help but feel that they should have stuck by that. But instead, they went this way, and after seeing the film, I stand corrected. Yes, it’s different, and as someone who has seen the show multiple times, it does take a little while to get used too but Thompson adds a unique spin to the role. She is deliciously wicked, towering over the children in huge metal capped boots and delighting in her performance of ‘The Smell of Rebellion’.
This adaptation stays very true to the stage show, interspersing the story of Matilda versus the bad guys with her own storytelling in a wonderful blend and creating a world that fits both the story and the style of Roald Dahl beautifully. That being said, there are some differences with a couple of characters missing entirely. Here Matilda is an only child, and whilst we see Mrs Wormwood in a series of loud costumes, her dance partner Rudolpho is nowhere to be seen, meaning that not one but two songs (Loud and Telly) faced the cut. But this doesn’t take away from it at all, in fact you don’t miss them and new song ‘Still Holding My Hand’ brings the film to a close in a touching and poignant finale.
To wrap up, Matilda the Musical (the movie) raises the bar of stage to screen adaptations, taking the source material and lifting it in a blur of colour, music, and immaculate style. The special effects are incredible, the performances wonderful and the production values brilliantly high. Others setting out to make movies of musicals should really watch this and learn a lesson or two, for this is how it should be done.