Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical: Young Irish star Alisha Weir is a compelling, spirited heroine

Director Matthew Warchus has put the recording-breaking West End hit onscreen. But that doesn’t quite make it a screen musical

Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical
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Director: Matthew Warchus
Cert: PG
Genre: Musical
Starring: Alisha Weir, Lashana Lynch, Stephen Graham, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Thompson
Running Time: 1 hr 37 mins

Matilda, a children’s classic that was published in 1988 and illustrated by Quentin Blake, is one of Roald Dahl’s less malevolent creations. In this story about an unnaturally intelligent young girl who loves to read, despite her abusive, TV-obsessed parents, Matilda bonds with her kindly teacher, Miss Honey, and uses telekinetic powers against her tyrannical headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull.

To date, the book has inspired a mischievous 1996 film adaptation by Danny DeVito, a BBC radio programme narrated by Lenny Henry, and a West End musical written by Dennis Kelly with songs by Tim Minchin. That version has hoovered up a record-breaking number of Olivier Awards and five Tonys, and continues to pack out houses around the world.

This inevitable film adaptation bops along to Minchin’s shouty tunes and Ellen Kane’s stomping choreography without ever convincing us that it’s a screen musical. Save for some Skittle-coloured CG and cartoon violence, the original West End director Matthew Warchus puts a filmed version of the stage show onscreen. Theatre fans will be delighted; movie fans will wonder where the wide-angle chorus lines went to.

Kelly’s family-oriented adaptation excises Matilda’s brother and the deputy headmaster, and parachutes in the friendly librarian Mrs Phelps (Sindhu Vee) and a subplot concerning an acrobat and an escapologist that looks spectacular but feels entirely alien to the proceedings. Matilda, meanwhile, is less like the Carrie jnr of the source material and more like a plucky girlboss.


The young Irish star Alisha Weir makes for a compelling, spirited heroine. The scenes she shares with Lashana Lynch’s big-hearted Miss Honey are especially affecting. The adult cast has a ball, with Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough channelling pantomime energy. Emma Thompson, buried and barking orders under latex and padding, is the film’s most authentically pigtail-pulling Dahlian presence.

The children, one of Minchin’s catchiest tunes suggests, are revolting. They’re not nearly revolting enough, but they’re plenty of fun.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic