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Roald Dahl's stories get an Anderson touch

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, The Swan, The Ratcatcher202339 min★★★★☆4.5/5Director:Wes AndersonCast:Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Rupert Friend

If the universe indeed conspires, it has conspired excellently to bring together the deliciously eccentric Hollywood auteur Wes Anderson and master storyteller Roald Dahl together for a series of four short films on Netflix (of which we are reviewing three). These are Dahl’s relatively lesser-known tales. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is the longest (also, decidedly cutest) and Benedict Cumberbatch plays the titular rolewith superb felicity. Apparently, Dahl wrote this story in 1977 to cock a snook at critics who panned him for his routinely macabre denouements.

Henry Sugar is a short movie about a do-gooder with a second sight. The films playout both like an audio storybook and a play where background props are changed at a steady clip by stagehands, who sometimes even drag the actors to position them correctly! The actors turn to the camera and utter “I said” after their dialogues, delivering the prose with exacting faithfulness to the original Dahl text. You would think the audience would be disoriented, but no! This quirkiness is so Dahl and so Anderson and so well done that it keeps you glued to the screen in a way you wouldn’t imagine. An inventive hat tip this, to an author in whose stories one can never predict who will win and who will end up terrorised.

Ralph Fiennes plays a sardonic Dahl who himself introduces the audience to the main characters in the stories who, in turn, narrate it and sometimes introduce us to their younger versions as in the case of the second story The Swan. This is, at its heart, a poignant tale of bullying. The typical Dahlesque dread creeps up on you every second and the last second of the story takes you down with a thump, quite literally!

The third tale The Ratcatcher is horribly delish. Its malevolence springs upon you ah-so-casually that you itch for that long-gone lazy summer when you had the luxury to devour the collected edition of Dahl’s stories in two weeks.

In short, do not miss these!

(Published 29 September 2023, 19:32 IST)

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