I’ll be quite frank with you – I know that I read Roald Dahl as a kid, and I recall enjoying the tales of Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka, Matilda and the Witches, but I don’t remember ever having read The BFG. It’s possible that I may have done, but I can’t remember it in the slightest. A benefit of that, though, is that I got to sit down for Steven Spielberg’s The BFG and not know what was coming, getting to lose myself in a wonderful experience. Although it’s not his best work, a fusion of one of the greatest directors and greatest authors of our time produces a truly magical film.
Ten-year-old Sophie (Ruby Bamhill) is an orphan who, up at three in the morning, sees a mysterious figure who whisks her away for the adventure of a lifetime. This creature is the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance), a 24-foot behemoth who reveals his gentleness and charm to Sophie, and the two become friends. However, Sophie’s presence soon attracts the unwanted attention of the other giants, who bully the BFG and eat humans. The two come up with a plan – they travel to London, intending to convince the Queen to help them get rid of the bad giants once and for all.
The moment you know this is a Spielberg film, you know exactly what to expect – throughout the movie, the sense of almost childlike enchantment hangs over the film, conjured up as only he can. You could wind up breathless watching The BFG, with it being so visually stunning that it is a treat to watch – a sequence at a tree surrounded by dreams is a fine example of this (with a typically strong and evocative score by John Williams serving to underline the visuals).
It is particularly impressive in how it realises the titular giant – Rylance’s every expression is captured, and it brings a lot of heart that CGI alone would never have managed. His performance is wonderfully rich, and as well as the heart he offers, he can also be incredibly funny – his delivery and ease with Dahl’s giant talk is impressive and often amusing. He works incredibly well with newcomer Bamhill (who was allowed to audition with the idea it would teach her about rejection), who sells a lot of the CGI with her reactions and is a compelling presence in her own right. She brings a nice mix of awe to the film, both stemming from her reactions to this new world and her joy at finding someone to call a friend after a life of loneliness.
You can see why Spielberg was drawn to this film – a tale of two outsiders becoming friends, standing up to bullies and finding homes is exactly the sort of story he likes to tell. It is a bit of a shame that he can’t quite pull the heartstrings as much as he usually does, and it feels as though the film wants an emotional reaction it isn’t quite delivering. I left with a tear in my eye, but in glossing over some of the darker aspects of the story, The BFG doesn’t mine the true emotion there – it is a touch too nice for its own good.
It is also worth noting that the threat here is a bit of a non-starter (probably because it is a bit of a means to an end in the story of the friendship between the two leads). The villainous giant Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement, although I spent the whole movie thinking it was Vinnie Jones) is a flat baddie who is defeated with the utmost ease. To get to the finale, though, we do get to have a very fun sequence at Buckingham Palace, which was undoubtedly the highlight of the film.
The BFG does not live up to the live up to the heights of Spielberg’s previous films, but those are mighty big footsteps to follow. In its own right, however, it is a charming and enjoyable adventure that is full of whimsy and it is a wonderful treat for the eyes. The shortcomings do not hold it back, however, and it is a great family film.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Mark Rylance (The BFG), Ruby Bamhill (Sophie), Penelope Wilton (The Queen), Jermaine Clement (Fleshlumpeater), Rebecca Hall (Mary), Rafe Spall (Mr Tibbs)
Running Time: 117 Mins