Cannes 2016: The BFG

I covered Cannes Film Festival this year, and I will be posting my reviews on here daily. My pieces are on a website known as The Upcoming and have been published in something called Swipe magazine.

Roald Dahl’s classic is given the Spielberg treatment, which, while introducing some questionable modifications to the original text, produces an entertaining film aimed squarely at children, offering few comic concessions for adults. Mark Rylance gives a brilliantly emotive performance as the 24-feet tall BFG, while 11-year-old debutant Ruby Barnhill holds her own in a difficult role acting opposite a CGI giant. Rylance’s BFG is one of the best instances of motion capture yet put to screen, and the general level of technical wizardry on show is astounding. But the film lacks a gripping narrative, and the bizarre third act that takes place at Buckingham Palace (Penelope Wilton plays the Queen very straight) translates oddly to screen, disrupting the pace and tone built up during the early scenes in Giant Country and the BFG’s abode.

The film begins with Sophie, a precocious, highly literate insomniac, awake in the early hours of the morning, hiding from the staff who run rule over her in the orphanage. One night she spots a large silhouetted figure, out delivering dreams to sleeping Londoners. The BFG then whisks Ruby away to Giant Country, afraid the young girl will blow his cover. There, the pair come under suspicion from a bullying, “bean-eating” cohort of BFG’s fellow giants, led by the evil cockney Fleshlumpeater (voiced with relish by erstwhile Flight of the Conchords‘ star Jermaine Clement). Sophie and the BFG must use their common humanity to repel the gang’s thuggish incursions, finally seeking help from the Queen and her personal assistant Mary (a very small role for Rebecca Hall).

The action sequences are a marvel of skill and technical competence. Barnhill is suitably punchy and cool playing the brave, self-sufficient little girl, strangely undeterred by her chance meeting with a frightening and beautifully realised world of giants. In contrast, London is rendered in a very suspect manner, containing the usual landmarks and quirks gobbled up by international audiences. The scenes in the capital seem to exist in some indeterminable time period, high on blinkered nostalgia and postcard-approved sepia tones. And for all the ability on show, the film lacks a theme that is truly interesting – the invocation of hopes, dreams and magic is not quite satisfactory – and it is difficult to shift away from the feeling that Dahl’s original tale loses something of its charm, sharpness and needle when transposed to the big screen.


Published by

Joseph Owen

PhD, Carl Schmitt, Modernism and Sovereignty at University of Southampton

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