Although gray autumnal clouds may have made an unwanted appearance over the British capital for the opening night of the 2022 BFI London Film Festival on Wednesday, the noise, color and upbeat song and dance nature of curtain-raiser Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical — getting its world premiere at the Royal Festival Hall — ensured it was anything but a drab affair.

Starring Emma Thompson, Lashana Lynch, Stephen Graham and newcomer Alisha Weir (who plays the lead), the adaptation — a Netflix and Sony/Tristar collaboration — comes from Matthew Warchus, artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre and based on his own phenomenally successful stage adaptation of the beloved children’s book alongside writer Dennis Kelly and songwriter Tim Minchin, which first hit the West End in 2012.

Unlike many previous London Film Festival openers, children made up a large percentage of the audience (some of whom even made it to the drinks reception afterwards, presumably accompanied by an adult).

Speaking at the press conference earlier in the day, Thompson expressed her enjoyment at playing the tyrannical, child-hating headmistress Miss Trunchbull in the film.

“It’s absolute bliss to play people like that, because you can just indulge in your inner demons and let them all out. It’s thrilling and fun,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lynch, coming off the back of The Woman King and last year’s 007 turn in No Time To Die, discussed her recent spate of roles and being able to play protagonist Miss Honey.

“It’s really amazing to be able to play someone in charge, to play someone who can handle themselves,” she said. “It’s inspiring to see a young Black woman on-screen not be perfect, not be striving for excellence, and not having to adhere to any rules that have been placed around her. She just is and for a long time I’ve read scripts whereby black women don’t just get to be on the page.”

Lynch added that she was grateful that there had been a shift with Matilda the Musical to give the role of Miss Honey to a Black woman.

“Because whilst it doesn’t matter, it’s just a person playing her, it is a clear message from me and my childhood self that the black women that bestowed a lot of wisdom in me at school did the right thing, because I’m now able to take that through my career and speak to young people about how incredible you can be even when you’ve come from trauma. And everyone comes with trauma. But Miss Honey just does it, she’s able to find the light at the end of the tunnel through young people. Every single thing I’ve done has led me to be able to play Miss Honey.”

Thompson joked that Warchus would constantly tell her off on the set for always hugging the children.

“He would say, ‘Can you please stop hugging the children, because they’re supposed to be frightened of you,’ but the children all thought I was Nanny McPhee!”

The film will be released by Sony and TriStar Pictures across the U.K. and Ireland in cinemas on Nov. 25, and Netflix across the world — excluding the U.K. and Ireland — on Dec. 25.

The BFI London Film Festival runs from Oct. 5-16.

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