Tales of mystery, imagination and MAGIC
Lights, camera, action! MARION MCMULLEN looks at how children’s writer Roald Dahl has inspired film makers
GEORGE CLOONEY, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Sean Connery, Dick Van Dyke, Danny DeVito and Owen Wilson are just some of the top acting stars who have been cast in Roald Dahl films.
The children’s writer was born 100 years ago this month in Llandaff, Cardiff, and TV and film bosses have been eagerly looking to his words to entertain audiences for years.
Roald penned his whimsical tales, such as Matilda and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, in his garden shed and introduced the world to words like Gremlins, Oompa Loompa, Mugglewump and whizzpopper.
He even wrote for the movies himself and was screenwriter for the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Roald later said of all the films he was involved with, this was the only one where he liked the finished result.
Roald wrote the script for 007’s creator Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It was him who came up with the name Truly Scrumptious, and he also brought the series Tales Of The Unexpected to TV in the 1970s.
Gene Wilder, who died last week at the age of 83, played the title role in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory in 1971.
Julie Dawn Cole played spoiled brat Veruca Salt in the story about schoolboy Charlie who clinches a golden ticket to gain access to the enchanting factory. Reflecting on the success of Gene Wilder’s portrayal of the famous candy man, she said: “The genius of it. You never quite know whether Mr Wonka is crazy, good, bad, evil. You never quite know what he is.”
Johnny Depp appeared as Willy Wonka in 2005 in director Tim Burton’s movie Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Some of the buttons in the factory’s famous glass elevator included blackberry sausages, root beer goggles, cocoa cats and T-bone steak and jelly.
Danny Champion Of The World, in 1989, about a widowed father and son and a greedy landowner featured Jeremy Irons and his own son Sam and Robbie Coltrane. Roald used events and characters from his own life for the story set in the 1950s. Jeremy’s father-in-law Cyril Cusack also appeared in the movie.
Real-life couple Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman appeared in the 1996 movie Matilda with Pam Ferris as the frightening school principal Miss Trunchbull.
Animated movie James And The Giant Peach came out the same year with Joanna Lumley, Oscar winner Richard Dreyfus, Simon Callow and Pete Postlethwaite providing the voices. Roald Dahl’s own words were used for the movie song Eating The Peach.
Fantastic Mr Fox, another animated movie, in 2009 attracted Hollywood A-listers with George Clooney voicing the title role and Meryl Streep as Mrs Fox. Bill Murray was the voice of Badger, Willem Dafoe was Rat and Owen Wilson was the voice of Coach Skip.
Director Wes Anderson later revealed it was the first book his mother bought for him when he was a child and he still owns the original copy. Wes himself appears in the film as the voice of the real estate agent weasel.
Roald wrote the story during a tragic time in his life following the death of one of his five children from measles and his son Theo being left with water on the brain after being struck by a car. The writer later helped develop a cerebral shunt known as the Wade-Dahl-Till valve to relieve pressure to the brain and the device has gone on to help countless others.
Roald’s books continue to inspire. Dame Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman starred in the BBC’s adaptation of Esio Trot last year while Steven Spielberg’s big-screen adaptation of The BFG is in cinemas now.
Back in 1990 it took Anjelica Huston eight hours in make-up to be transformed into Grand High Witch, Miss Eva Ernst, in the movie The Witches. She was Roald’s personal favourite for the role and the cast also included Rowan Atkinson, Jane Horrocks and Blenda Blethyn.
Roald died three months after the movie was released and the 74-yearold was buried with some of his favourite things, including HB pencils, chocolate and red wine.
He once summed up the reason for his success as: “I go down to my little hut, where it’s tight and dark and warm, and within minutes I can go back to being six or seven or eight again.”
As a screen writer he was Bond to succeed Roald Dahl was a natural story teller who dreamed up his tales in the garden shed
Roald brought Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to our screens Mr Fox was a fantastic hit
Gene Wilder, who died recently, as Willy Wonka in the classic 1971 movie
Anjelica Huston was perfect as the Grand High Witch
Matilda was the perfect pupil