Film Review: Matilda the Musical

Words: Rich Higton
Sunday 27 November 2022
reading time: min, words

Matilda is back on the big screen – but how does this musical rendition stack up against the version we all know and love?


Director: Matthew Warchus
Starring: Alisha Weir, Lashana Lynch, Stephen Graham
Running time: 117 minutes

It has been 26 years since the last time Matilda Wormwood graced our screens, back in 1996 it was Mara Wilson as the titular girl in Danny Devito’s well loved adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel. Since then, like many of Dahl’s works, the original movie and the book it was based on have never fallen out of the public consciousness. It wasn’t a surprise then, when musical comedy supremo Tim Minchin alongside Dennis Kelly adapted the book into a stage musical version in 2010. The stage show has toured the world from its premier in Stratford, to the West End and Broadway (winning numerous awards along the way); 2023 will see the show coming to Buenos Aires.

It comes as no surprise then, that the hit musical has been adapted for the silver screen by Minchin, Kelly and director Matthew Warchus (Simpatico, Pride). How does the big screen version stand up against the well-loved original and its stage counterpart? Pretty damn well it seems.

The story is as you would expect, Matilda, a very clever and magical little girl, lives with her imbecilic and abusive parents. She escapes the darkness of her world by escaping into books, aided by mobile librarian Mrs Phelps (Sindhu Vee). She is soon sent to school at the foreboding Crunchem Hall, overseen by the domineering and child hating head mistress Agatha Trunchbull. Matilda finds solace in the form of her class teacher Miss Honey, who recognises Matilda’s special gifts and together they rid the school of the evil Trunchbull.

We have a new definitive screen adaptation of Matilda

The biggest difference between the 2022 version of Matilda and its 1996 counterpart are of course the songs. Minchin’s unique songwriting ability shines through with some fantastic ensemble numbers, the highlight being ‘Revolting Children’ at the film’s climax.

The cast is uniformly excellent, Alisha Weir is fantastic as Matilda, giving a likeable and heartfelt performance; she also sang all her own songs. Lashana Lynch as Miss Honey and Emma Thompson as the Trunchbull are both perfectly cast too, with Lynch and Weir together making this 41-year-old man cry on more than one occasion. The ever-reliable Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough round off the main cast as the despicable Mr and Mrs Wormwood. 

Matthew Warchus has crafted a fitting screen adaptation of the classic children’s novel and the award-winning theatrical show. Matilda is full of hope, dreams and magic and the perfect film for the Christmas season. In my opinion we have a new definitive screen adaptation of Matilda, one that is distinct enough from the 1996 adaptation which improves on it in many ways. Magic.

Matilda the Musical is in cinemas now

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