After more than ten years of success in the West End for Matilda the Musical, Matthew Warchus’ on-screen adaptation of the play is an incredibly energized and entertaining rendition of Roald Dahl’s novel, told with a cast full of stars and those soon to be.
Emma Thompson made an impressive transformation into the Trunchbull, not only through the detailed prosthetics which helped in creating a tough outer layer, but also through her performance, becoming the draconian headmistress, resolute on crushing her pupils through surveillance, humiliation, and her hammer-throwing arm. Thompson became an intimidating and iconic villain against Alisha Weir’s determined Matilda and Lashana Lynch’s gentle Miss Honey, who became a standout during the song My House as her character attempted to remain strong while addressing her tragic circumstances.
As well as My House, Tim Minchin’s other songs were incredibly powerful in the film, with School Song being an incredibly dynamic and clever introduction to Cruchem Hall through the way the students played with the alphabet to warn Matilda and Lavender of the “living L” they are entering into. This, in addition to the fast paced cinematography following the children around the vintage school allowed the viewer to join in Matilda’s overwhelming journey through her new, increasingly unfair life. Equally powerful was the song Quiet which provided a peaceful and moving escape from the extravagance and energy of the rest of the film for the young protagonist and the audience, as she leaves all the people around her on the ground below, as she sits alone in the sky. Although occasionally I felt that the transitions from the action of the film into musical numbers did feel slightly stiff and unnatural, this is not uncommon in movie musicals and these moments were quickly overshadowed by how impressive and dynamic the performances were, particularly during the memorable song Revolting Children which had some of the best choreography in the whole film.
While the original musical ends with a reprise of When I Grow Up, the adaptation instead ends with a new song by Minchin, Still Holding My Hand, which I feel in the context of a film makes a better fit. The song also reflects the fact that the film takes a much greater focus on Matilda as an individual and her journey, demonstrated by the fact that songs such as Telly, performed by Mr Wormwood were cut, and that we no longer end with the Trunchbull, creating a greater sense of resolution, further solidifying this film as an exciting musical experience in its own right.
Matilda the Musical is currently playing in cinemas and will be made available on Netflix on 25 December 2022.