Eva Wise­man Who’d play you in the movie of your life? Plus, Ob­server ar­chive

Re­vis­it­ing Matilda in an age of women’s rage

The Observer Magazine - - News - @eva­wise­man

Who would play me in a film of my life? Great ques­tion and thank you for ask­ing. In adult­hood, Ni­cholas Lyn­d­hurst, with a pain au cho­co­lat taped to his fore­head be­cause wig­work is no­to­ri­ously pricey, and for the child­hood years, Roald Dahl’s Matilda, drawn in pen­cil. As we en­ter the sec­ond act there’ll be a com­pli­cated mon­tage se­quence where Quentin Blake’s il­lus­tra­tion be­comes hu­man, Lyn­d­hurst­ing, sig­ni­fy­ing a form­ing of iden­tity and self, etc, and thus flesh. It will be a silent film, and also for­eign, and very chal­leng­ing.

Like many, Matilda is on my mind at the mo­ment. Last week, af­ter a pub­lic poll asked who she “would be stand­ing up to to­day”, a statue was erected op­po­site the li­brary at Great Mis­senden, of Matilda staunchly fac­ing a Trunch­bull-like Don­ald Trump. It’s rare that a char­ac­ter from a chil­dren’s book fixes it­self in the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion in the way she did, and to mark her im­pact, to show that she lives on, the 30th an­niver­sary of Dahl’s book was cel­e­brated with new Quentin Blake draw­ings reimag­in­ing her as a grown woman in eight glit­ter­ing ca­reers. It was rem­i­nis­cent of the way Bar­bie re­launches her­self quar­terly as an as­tro­naut or pa­le­on­tol­o­gist, ex­cept with fewer tits, but yes, hav­ing once been one of those short-sighted chil­dren with whom Matilda res­onated, I ap­pre­ci­ated it.

My mum bought me my copy in 1988 as a bribe, and this sum­mer brought Matilda back into our home af­ter tak­ing our daugh­ter to see the mu­si­cal – the songs have pounded with jol­lity through ev­ery car ride since. And the tim­ing could not be bet­ter. This, surely, is the age of Matilda. Matilda Worm­wood, the lit­tle girl who no­body lis­tened to, whose re­sponse to op­pres­sion was to cul­ti­vate her anger, learn­ing to fo­cus it so ac­cu­rately, so smartly that it be­came a force strong enough to push over a glass of wa­ter from the other side of a room.

As a child I tried my very hard­est to har­ness my tele­ki­netic pow­ers and some­times, if the breeze was right, I got the cur­tains to move, but I see now I was do­ing it all wrong, (though it’s not like me to miss a metaphor). I see now the point of tip­ping over a glass is not for the thrill of per­form­ing magic, but in­stead for the power that comes with har­ness­ing your anger to soak the cruel head­mistress, and so desta­bil­is­ing rot­ten au­thor­ity.

“If you’re not out­raged,” wrote Heather Heyer in her last Face­book up­date be­fore be­ing killed by the car that drove into her crowd of an­tifas­cist pro­test­ers at a white su­prem­a­cist rally in Charlottesville, Vir­ginia, “you’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion.” We are liv­ing in a time of rage. In

Nanette , the most re­cent stand-up show to make me cry, co­me­dian Han­nah Gadsby in­sists: “I have a right to feel anger.” A col­lec­tion of new books

(by Cle­men­tine Ford, Re­becca Trais­ter and So­raya Che­maly) in­ves­ti­gate fe­male fury right now, at a po­lit­i­cal mo­ment when an in­creas­ing num­ber of women have de­cided (or be­come too ex­hausted) to stop breath­ing through their rage, stop mask­ing it with gen­tle lis­ten­ing faces and stop turn­ing away. In­stead, they’re lean­ing into the fire – shout­ing, protest­ing, writ­ing their anger on huge glit­ter­ing signs and parad­ing them through the streets. While their broth­ers were taught to revel in their anger, know­ing it would be heard as power, as girls these women (es­pe­cially black women) learned it would be re­ceived as hys­te­ria. They have grown up be­ing taught to re­press their fury, or chew it up un­til it’s soft enough to swal­low dis­creetly.

What changed, apart from the world start­ing to feel like a sort of end-times skip, where rats bathe in bin juice be­side a clock tick­ing very loudly, was that women re­alised that, while one voice shout­ing could be quickly dis­missed as hor­monal, ir­ri­tat­ing, a whole crowd of voices joined to­gether across the world like some right­eous choir of fury would need to be taken se­ri­ously. Stay­ing quiet is not an op­tion to­day – even the mildest of celebri­ties, like far-right icon Tay­lor Swift (who, af­ter years of po­lit­i­cal si­lence, fi­nally came out as a Demo­crat last week) has spo­ken up. Rage has united women. And once we have shouted, and voted, and cried snot­tily in anger and the raw­ness of mem­ory, we fo­cus this rage, as if on a glass of wa­ter, and we roar into the wind that has kept us in­side, and like Matilda, we push.

The film will be shot in Canada for bud­get rea­sons, there will be a “mak­ing of” doc­u­men­tary, with sur­pris­ing celebrity cameos, and my es­tate will in­sist that there is al­ways a pud­ding truck on set. Again, thank you for ask­ing. ■

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