The Netflix movie adaptation of the stage musical, which debuted in the West End in 2012, opened the 66th edition of the festival on Wednesday night, where despite starting 45 minutes late, it found an appreciative audience in the Royal Festival Hall crowd, which included a number of revolting children.
The Netflix and TriStar Pictures pic stars Emma Thompson as psychotic headmistress Miss Trunchbull, Lashana Lynch as Miss Honey, Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough as Matilda’s parents and Sindhu Vee as confidante Mrs. Phelps.
The film — which, it bears repeating, is very much not the book adaptation but rather the musical adaptation — introduces a great new talent in 13-year-old Alisha Weir, who plays Matilda. While a certain generation may still hold a candle for Mara Wilson’s book-loving rebel from the 1996 drama, Weir’s exceptional singing, dancing and acting chops consistently impress straight through the 117-minute film.
Screenwriter Dennis Kelly adapted the Tony and Olivier award-winning Royal Shakespeare Company theater production for the big screen, with original music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. The film was directed by Tony award-winning director Matthew Warchus, who also developed and directed the stage show for both the West End and Broadway.
The film was introduced by BFI CEO Ben Roberts, who handed it over to outgoing London Film Festival director Tricia Tuttle, describing the 10-year festivals lead as “our very own Miss Honey.” Tuttle told the audience that her team requested “Matilda” as the fest’s opening night film way back in February.
“Matilda is the best character in children’s literature,” said Tuttle, who noted that she’s “resourceful” and “fights for justice.”
“This version really captures the joy and darkness of Dahl, but also the message that if you grin and bear it, nothing will change and the bullies will win,” said Tuttle.
Most of the cast (bar Andrea Riseborough) and the creative team, including Eric Fellner of Working Title, took the stage ahead of the screening. Following the movie, however, there was no standing ovation unlike at festivals such as Cannes and Venice, and audiences steadily trickled out for the opening night party as the credits rolled.
“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” is produced by Fellner and Tim Bevan for Working Title, along with Jon Finn and Luke Kelly of The Roald Dahl Story Company.
The film will be released by Sony and TriStar Pictures across the U.K. and Ireland in cinemas on Nov. 25. Netflix will release the film across the world — excluding the U.K. and Ireland — this winter.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from Oct. 5-16.