The BFG

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UK Release Date 22nd July 2016
Director SPIELBERG
Starring Mark 'The Don' Rylance
Runtime 117 Minutes
Certificate PG
Reviewer Jo and Stellan
Reviewed 19th July 2016

The books of Roald Dahl hold an extremely fond and special place in the hearts of many adults and children around the world. Quintessentially English and by that I mainly mean the sense of humour as opposed to not wanting to be part of Europe. Born to the same generation as my beloved grandfather who would write me letters from Saudi Arabia where he worked and put me bottom on a list of his favourite people that week. I was below the hotel dog but above the man who washed his feet. Just. It’s that kind of slightly cruel sense of humour and determined silliness nestled alongside sentimentality and the celebration of the brave and the different that make Dahl’s books endlessly readable. The strange are celebrated, the clever applauded as long as they aren’t too smug about it and the brats, well they are either eaten by crocodiles or witches or sucked along a chocolate river and stuck in tube. There is an inherent darkness in Dahl’s world too, he himself having been terribly bullied at boarding school and having lost a child. It was to that lost child that Dahl dedicated the book The BFG and of course the young heroine is none other than granddaughter and now famous model and chef, Sophie Dahl.

Now if you are a certain age like us here at BS Towers you will remember the cartoon version starring none other than David Jason as The BFG. When I cast my mind back I warmly remembered its brilliance. I found it on Netflix the other day and it lasted around 4 minutes before my children declared it rubbish and stalked off in search of something to torment each other with. I had to admit, like so many things we thought were great as children of the 80’s - smoking, perms, Chris de Burgh and The Goonies (Si note: I won't hear a word said against The Goonies. Bah.)- in the cold light of old age, they are actually crap. So high time for a good version of a Dahl book and who else but the one film director whose movie creations have shaped as many childhood dreams as Dahl’s books have – and I’m not talking about Michael Bay. I am talking about of course the one and only Dream Catcher himself – Steven Spielberg. Both Spielberg and Dahl like their young characters with a sense of displacement but plucky and sticking it to bullies and silly adults. Dahl’s world will always play out more in the darkness and shadows than Spielberg’s shining Hollywood light but they have a similar core and this pairing is for the most part a great success. 

Sophie is an eight-year-old girl, living a somewhat humdrum and soulless existence in an orphanage. She wanders the corridors late at night, dragging cats around in her cacophonous blanket. Lonely and alone, one cannot help feel for our poor little heroine. One night, as usual she is awake and this time her curiosity gets the better of her and she wanders behind the curtain, onto the balcony where she suddenly catches sight of A GIANT!  Before Sophie has time to think she is whisked away to the Land of The Giants. Turns out, and even if you haven’t read the book, you might have worked this out, that this giant is not a bone crunching child swallower but in fact a BIG FRIENDLY GIANT. Phew. Sophie and the BFG form a tentative, somewhat grumpy but utterly charming friendship where Sophie learns about the BFG and the other giants, and the terrible things they have done that have made the BFG so sad and so scared for Sophie. They come up with a plan to defeat these bullying giants once for all but it does include some splendiferous bravery from the BFG and some help from HRH Queen Elizabeth. Will it succeed? You’ll have to go see it to find out. Or read the book. Or Google. Anyway! YES! Go see it and find out. 

Now, our Steven is not a silly man so he knew it would be wise for the viewers of the film, who would most likely have been readers of the book in some way shape or form, to recognise some of Quentin Blake in the film version. And we do. Although the BFG is inherently Spielberg’s, one can feel Dahl and Blake in almost every scene. There are wonderful moments including snozcumber slime and the Dickensian style London we see is enchanting. 

To discuss The BFG one really has to begin and finish with the absolutely splendiferous performance by one Mr Mark Rylance. The motion capture that Spielberg has used for the first time for me I really saw Rylance’s face in the finished version. Those kind eyes he has and that lovely smile seem to just work so wonderfully on the face of a 12-foot friendly giant. When the BFG gets his widest grin on I defy you not to crack a smile yourself. Likewise when those huge eyes are sad it’s nigh on impossible not to get emotional. There are also some simply beautiful and balletic moves as we watch the giant hide himself in plain site from the human beans he is terrified of. The physicality and grace in those moves are stunning to watch. It’s a wonderful performance and Rylance who has that Shakespearean timing and delivery in his lines make poetry out of the silly gibberish the giant spouts at times whilst also making both bigs and smalls giggle. Rylance holds the ship steady when one fears that perhaps it is steering into waters too still and perhaps even veering towards tedium. A dazzling and heartfelt performance.  

The inimitable Jermaine Clement is hilarious as giant child eating giant, subtly named Fleshlumpeater. Movie first timer Ruby Barnhill does a grand job embodying stubborn, wilful and clever Sophie. Penelope Wilton pops up as a perfectly cast Queen Elizabeth and Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall make for classy support as part of the royal household. Wilton, Spall and Hall are in the scene that elicited the most laughs from the young audience I watched the film with. Let’s just say it includes bubbles going the wrong way that need to come out of a different end…

One of the reasons I think I loved this film so much is because it made me feel like a child again whilst watching it. Spielberg’s brilliant sense of youth and childlike wonder is so beautifully at work here. So many times I found myself marvelling about how deftly he used a visual trick or a camera move to create such a sense of wonderment or amusement. I can’t think of a current director that could have done such justice to Dahl’s book. It isn't breaking any ground or trying to be clever but it is simply a delightful family film.  

In short:

The BFG is the kind of film I want my children to watch, just as Dahl’s books are the kind of books I want my children to read. Those lessons – be brave, be kind and don’t be judgemental; it’s OK to be different and make up words. Broken Shark Junior reporter Stellan did not stir once, even when he had finished the whole pack of Randoms (other sweets are available). I asked him to sum up the film in one word and he said 'it was quite nice'. Indeed.... Ethereal, engaging and a truthful adaption of Dahl, The BFG is consistently enchanting with a wonderful cast and skilfully helmed by wunderkind Spielberg - this BFG is Bound For Greatness!  Sorry. Couldn’t help it. 

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