Frances Winston was not disappointed at the treatment of one of her childhood favourites, The BFG, by Spielberg, although she felt it was not as dark as the source material.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg – Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader
I adored this Roald Dahl book as a child, and, despite Steven Spielberg’s presence, I was still somewhat apprehensive that this movie might permanently ruin my childhood memories. It takes a truly skilled filmmaker to take a tale that will undoubtedly require a lot of CGI and effects, and make it really believable for the young, and young at heart, watching it.
There are few who don’t know the story, as the book is somewhat of a childhood staple alongside many other Dahl classics. But in case you have been living under a rock (or simply wasted your childhood playing computer games instead of reading) the premise is this.
Sophie is a young orphan living in a children’s home, until one night she sees a giant through her window. Realising he’s been spotted, he whisks her away to Giant Country so that she won’t reveal his existence to the rest of the world.
Initially frightened, she soon comes to realise that her giant is more gentle than gruesome – something that is confirmed when he identifies himself as the Big Friendly Giant – or BFG. Unfortunately, his fellow giants are not nearly so personable, and while he spends his evenings blowing dreams into children’s bedrooms, they spend theirs eating them.
Relentlessly bullied by the other giants, and fearful for Sophie’s safety, he tries to return her to the orphanage, but she’s having none of it. She determines that they will come up with a plan to stop the evil giants. And when they do it is epic, involving the Queen of England, and whole armies, as the unrepentant people-eaters are finally put in their place.
Spielberg remains faithful to the source material, with only minor changes made to the plot, and anyone who adores the book should find little fault with the adaptation. Mark Rylance has the task of embodying the BFG, and through a combination of his enchanting characterisation and some amazing stop motion animation, you quickly forget that you are watching a computer-generated figure.
Every nuance of Rylance’s performance is captured, and his screen-presence totally shines through. Newcomer, Barnhill, is a joy as Sophie, and is just the right side of precocious. Some of the other ‘real life’ supporting cast seem a bit lost in this vast tale, but it doesn’t detract from the fantastic relationship between the BFG and Sophie, which is truly engaging.
As you would expect given the people behind this, it looks truly magnificent. It is beautifully shot, and it is hard to tell where real life ends and the effects begin, as the transitions are so seamless. The soundtrack is also wonderful, and really enhances the action.
The one thing that does irk slightly is that this isn’t nearly as dark as the source material. We are presented with a sweeter, almost sanitised, version of the classic. This is, after all, based on a children’s book, and the contents of that are deemed fit to be read by youngsters, so I would think they could have gone slightly darker than they have.
That aside, this is a lovely movie. While it’s no E.T., Spielberg definitely still knows how to trigger his audience’s inner child, although this it won’t appeal to all adults. But for many, it will be a delight that allows them to hark back to their childhood, and memories of being frightened of the bogeyman and things under the bed.
It almost goes without saying that children will adore it. I can see this becoming a much-loved children’s classic in years to come, and Rylance deserves at least a few accolades for his work on this.
In Cinemas July 22!