A girl named Sophie encounters the Big Friendly Giant who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kindhearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s novel, ‘The BFG’, is an enjoyable adventure even if it lacks the sheer wonder and excitement contained within Spielberg’s finest fantasy films. The late Melissa Mathison’s screenplay veers close to the source material, albeit much of the darker elements of the book are toned down, and this is both a blessing and a curse. It does mean the film lags at times and some viewers may struggle with the long middle stretch where little happens, but it does provide scope for some wonderful performances from the lead duo and it allows for the viewer to fully immerse themselves in the world Spielberg (and Dahl) have created.
The ace in the pack for Spielberg is the wonderful Mark Rylance, a captivating screen presence who carries the film through some of the slower spells. The technology used to capture his performance and make him into the BFG is superb, and Rylance himself fully inhibits all the quirks of the character in an utterly magnetic display. He is matched well by the excellent newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie, who deserves extra credit for giving a convincing performance against a green screen; no mean feat for a child actor. She has a lot of spirit and charm and she performs really well opposite a seasoned pro like Rylance. It’s important these performances are so strong as the material is a little thin on the ground, and whilst Spielberg gets mileage by focusing on the underdog nature of the story, with Sophie’s upbringing as an orphan being echoed by The BFG’s status as the weakest member of the giant group he belongs too, it struggles to fully engage at times.
Spielberg succeeds at bringing the characters to life but not the world, which feels fairly restrictive and limited in comparison with his previous steps into fantasy territory. The film does burst into life towards the end once the bullying situation is tackled head on, and this is where the film is at its most playful and fun. There’s clearly a lot of love and care in the making of this adaptation and I think the film is likely to resonate most with those who feel nostalgic for the story from the period when they were growing up, as opposed to appealing to the kids of today. This kind of storytelling is a little more measured and small scale, and this approach feels a little distant now in comparison with most modern movies aimed at children.
‘The BFG’ is a spirited adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, but the story is a little thin and fails to match the quality of the terrific performances from Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill. An enjoyable adventure but not as magical as one might have hoped.
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hill, Bill Hader, Rafe Spall, Michael David Adamthwaite, Daniel Bacon, Adam Godley, Ólafur Ólafsson, Marilyn Norry, Matt Frewer and Chris Shields