Wonka – movie review

The youngest generation possibly hasn’t experienced either Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka, dating back 52 years and 18 years respectively. So, now they have their own Wonka and the singing, dancing Timothee Chalamet makes a good fist of it in the title role.

Willy Wonka is charming and effusive as the magic man and chocolatier who arrives in town after seven years at sea to open a chocolate shop. Having spent the 12 sovereigns in his pocket on his walk from ship to the centre of town, he’s broke. He chooses to think the best of a rogue who ushers him out of the cold. Bleacher (Tom Davis) looks to take advantage of Wonka’s vulnerability and takes him to lodgings at Mrs Scrubbit’s (Olivia Colman). Not listening to the sage advice of Noodle (Calah Lane), one of Scrubbit’s “helping hands”, Wonka fails to read the fine print … because he can’t read. As a result, he signs up for what he’s told is a sovereign a night (which he believes he can easily cover), only to be hoodwinked big time. In a matter of hours, his bill rises to 10,000 sovereigns and he joins several others trapped in Scrubbit’s web.

But Wonka is different. Seemingly out of nowhere, he can magically create the world’s most delicious – and (literally) magical – chocolates. He forges an instant connection with  Noodle, and with her help, breaks his restraints. Wonka is intent on opening a chocolate shop in the Gallery Gourmet, the city’s poshest market. Years earlier, his beloved mother (Sally Hawkins) – now departed – introduced him to the delights of handmade chocolate. Since then the chocolate shop has been his dream.

What he doesn’t count on though is a conspiracy by a cartel operated by three uppity chocolatiers to keep him out of the market. They are Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Prodnose (Matt Lucas) and Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton). They control the chief of police (Keegan-Michael Key), a priest, Father Julian (Rowan Atkinson), and 500 chocaholic monks. But Wonka is nothing if not persistent and, of course, he possesses an indominable spirit.

And one can’t overlook his encounter with the diminutive, orange Oompa-Loompa with green hair (Hugh Grant), who has been stalking him. The Oompa-Loompa maintains that Wonka is beholden to him.

The resetting of Roald Dahl’s story by Simon Farnaby and Paul King works a treat. The film is infused with some strong musical numbers, which help create a colourful and creative narrative to put smiles on faces. Not surprisingly, the larger-than-life characters make the piece, and many are priceless.

Timothee Chalamet is so endearing. Olivia Colman revels in her greedy and wicked persona, which Tom Davis feeds into. Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas and Mathew Baynton play up the chocolate barons’ arrogance and entitlement. Calah Lane displays resilience as Noodle. Gifted some choice one-liners, Hugh Grant steps up to deliver them with aplomb. His droll sense of humour suits the role perfectly. Always a crowd favourite, I would have liked to have seen more of Rowan Atkinson as an unlikely man of the cloth.

Among the film’s many stand-outs are the sumptuous costuming and production design by Lindy Hemming and Nathan Crowley respectively.

Paul King, who established his bona fides as a fine family film director with Paddington and its sequel, has crafted another beauty. Wonka is a delightful blend of fantasy, adventure and humour. Chocolate lovers rejoice!

Alex First

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