Matilda moves from stage to screen – a step in the right direction?

Written by on 19th January 2023

Roald Dahl’s stories never grow old. There have been so many versions of them on stage and screen. One of the most popular is Matilda, which was written in 1988, and was adapted for a very popular film in 1996.

In 2010, the story was adapted for the stage and became a very successful West End and Broadway hit. It quickly amassed a worldwide fanbase, and has since won over 90 international awards.

Now, a film has been released based on Matilda the Musical, starring Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchbull and young rising star Alisha Weir as Matilda. As a fan of the stage show, I decided to give the film adaptation a chance. Although hesitant at first, after seeing previous musical theatre film adaptations arguably tarnish a show’s stagey feel, I was pleasantly surprised; the film’s Director Matthew Warchus and choreographer Ellen Kane ensured that the show’s uplifting feel and unique choreography were not lost off-stage. A particular highlight was the number Revolting Children, which has been a fan favourite of theatre goers for over a decade. I felt that the rebellious essence of the number translated perfectly from stage to screen, with Kane keeping with the musical’s slick, complex choreography and awesome tricks. The level of talent from the cast, especially the child dancers, was just as amazing to watch on screen as it is onstage. With many of the cast and crew having stage experience, the musical feel was certainly not lost.

The only aspect of the film that I felt differed from the show was the removal of a few of the musical’s songs; ‘Tellyand ‘Loud. As these numbers are both so loved by stage audiences, I was surprised to see that they did not feature in the movie adaptation. These songs provide the audience with comedic commentary from the Wormwoods – Mr Wormwood’s opinion on television and manhood in Telly, and Mrs Wormwood’s thoughts on how women should act in Loud. I felt that the removal of these songs prevented much character development for the Wormwoods, and instead they were more background characters rather than lead roles, as they arguably are in the stage production. Although I believe that both Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough did a fantastic job in the portrayal of their respective characters, I felt that the comedic aspect of their characters were lessened due to the fact that they were a smaller part of the story.

However, Warchus’ interesting directorial choices made for an engaging and unique take on the show. As camera angles can be used on screen, numbers such as Quiet were arguably enhanced by camera work, which added a level of tension that is difficult to convey off screen. Alisha Wier performance, particularly in this number, was fabulous. I loved how she stuck with a musical theatre acting style, and the fact that closeups could be used that are unavailable in stage performances meant that the audience was able to really see the characters’ facial expressions, which is sometimes difficult in theatre performances.

Overall, I felt that the film adaptation of Matilda the Musical was incredibly well done. Despite the removal of certain numbers, this beloved show was translated onto screens brilliantly. Choices made by directors and choreographers protected its musical theatre feel, whilst enhancing moments with screen technology, resulting in a phenomenal end product. Evident in the film’s box office success, and thousands of positive reviews, it is clear that stage productions can transition seamlessly onto screen when done right.

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