Spielberg’s take on the beloved Roald Dahl novel is restrained, nostalgic and sweetly sentimental
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of The BFG needs to please two types of what the title character famously calls “human beans”. Some of this film’s audience will be young children taking what could be one of their first cinema trips; others will be older viewers who grew up with Roald Dahl’s beloved novel and buy their tickets now expecting a nostalgic treat. By bringing Dahl’s familiar source material to life in a sweetly sentimental and relatively restrained way, the director manages to succeed on both counts.
Adapted from Dahl’s 1982 novel by E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison, the story follows lonely orphan Sophie (British child actress Ruby Barnhill) as she befriends the eponymous Big Friendly Giant (Bridge Of Spies’ Mark Rylance) and travels with him to Giant Country. There, the BFG simply wants to get on with his job of catching dreams to give to sleeping children, but he’s bullied by a squad of larger, nastier giants led by the Fleshlumpeater (Flight Of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) who enjoy feasting on human beans like Sophie. Dismayed, Sophie hatches a plan to plant a nightmare inside the head of the Queen (Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton) that will compel the monarch to send her troops to capture the spiteful giants.
Although Mathison and Spielberg dodge some of the darker elements of Dahl’s story, this is a broadly faithful and visually brilliant adaptation defined by its warm charm. Rylance gives a sensitive motion-capture performance, playing the BFG with a friendly West Country accent and a faint air of bewilderment, and Barnhill is compelling as strong-willed Sophie, a character who could be grating in the hands of a more traditionally hammy child actor. Compared to some summer blockbusters, The BFG might seem somewhat lacking in action: a scene in which the BFG sits down to have breakfast with the Queen is one of its big set-pieces. But Spielberg deserves credit for trusting, rightly, that the enduring appeal of Dahl’s characters will be enough to make his BFG a big-screen hit.
Stars: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton
Director: Steven Spielberg
Release date: 22 Jul, 2016