On Wednesday evening, July 6th, we went to see The BFG, the new movie adapted from the book by Roald Dahl. We enjoyed it very much.
Set in 1980’s Britain, orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), lives an insomniac existence at an unlikely Dickensian orphanage on a back street. When she breaks her own rules about noised in the night (“Don’t get out of bed, don’t go to the window, don’t look behind the curtain,”) she sees The BFG (Mark Rylance) going about his business of distributing dreams. He sees her seeing him, and steals her away with him so that she can’t tell what she has seen.
Initially outraged at her kidnapping, she attempts escape, but finds that BFG’s cave is in the middle of Giant Country, which is the home of nine other much less civilized giants, all of whom are man-eaters and at least three times BFG’s size. Eventually, she learns that BFG (Big, Friendly Giant, as he wishes to be called) is tender-hearted, and, even on short acquaintance, cares for her more than the orphanage keepers. He shows her the marvelous Dream Country, where he gets the makings for the dreams that he puts out to those that need them.
When she has a close call with the other giants, who have names like Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader), BFG decides that Sophie has to go back to the orphanage. However, this won’t do for Sophie, who has realized that the other giants are a deadly threat to other children. Together, they come up with an audacious plan that involves going to London to see the Queen.
We would disagree with the critics who say that The BFG is somehow lacking. Indeed, The BFG does not have the transgressive or satirical edge that shows up in adaptations of others of his works, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, or the explicitly anti-authoritarian Matilda. Instead, The BFG is a more pure children’s story, and is charming, sweet, and sentimental. It is also magical, beautiful, and tells a solid story of empowerment without doing harm.
It is also wonderfully funny, especially in the sequence of BFG’s visit to Buckingham Palace and breakfast with the Queen. Penelope Wilton (“Isobel Crawley” from Downton Abbey) plays the Queen wonderfully. She’s open to new things, but never at a loss and always in control. Her place staff, lead by lady in waiting Mary (Rebecca Hall) and First Footman Mr. Tibbs (Rafe Spall), show us how the truly professional do it, when confronted with the requirement to provide breakfast for a thirty-foot tall unexpected guest. That the scene is also the set-up for perhaps the most elaborate “fart joke” in movie history is just lagniappe.
We became aware of distinguished actor Mark Rylance watching him play Henry the Eighth’s ‘fixer’ Thomas Cromwell in the television adaptation of Wolf Hall, and were most impressed by the subtlety and depth of his acting skills. His basic solemn expression is perfect for the giant, and his ability to portray wonder, awe, fear, and anger with fine nuance does everything that is needed to convey the Giant’s character, when combined with the marvelous voice characterization. Rylance’s skills provide an excellent setting for Ms. Barnhill’s Sophie, who is a very naturalistic yet forceful young girl. The BFG is a fine, fine piece of fantasy cinema, and should be seen by all who still have a sense of wonder.
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