As we get ever closer Christmas it’s appropriate that we get a sugar rush with the release of Wonka a prequel about the famed chocolatier from Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s story, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. It’s a brave film maker that takes up the challenge but writer director Paul King, along with Simon Farnaby, have fashioned a story that sees Willy Wonka return to the UK having travelled the world collecting flavours for a new sweet shop he intends to open
But. Like the floor of The Nags Head pub, his path is strewn with sticky situations the first being that he’s unwittingly signed a contract from guest house proprietor Mrs Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) where, having racked up a bill for everything there from use of the stairs to using soap – a kind of business model later utilized by Ryanair – that he finds himself in debt to the tune of 10000 sovereigns and is enslaved into paying it off by working at her workhouse in the basement alongside others who have also found themselves in the same predicament including a young girl called Noodle (Calah Lane) who he befriends. Together the pair plot their way out with the intention to open his own sweet shop in a glitzy mall only to find that there’s a cartel of three fellow chocolatiers (Paterson Joseph, Mathew Baynton and Matt Lucas determined that he should fail. It’s a cartel that has a corrupt Chief of Police (Keegan Michael Key) assisted by an equally corrupt priest Father Julius (Rowan Atkinson) whose Cathedral sits over rivers of surplus chocolate, a veritable cornucopia of confectionary. a superhighway of sweetmeats, a, if you will, Bourneville Boulevard (so it’s little surprise that a Catholic priest is involved!). Like the OPEC of chocolate the three chocolatiers are determined to keep prices high and the presence of Wonka and his spectacular sweets which be priced to allow access for the poor (the very mention of the word ‘poor’ makes one of the chocolatiers wretch – a condition similar that suffered by Jacob Rees Mogg).
Wonka, like the original 1971 film, is a musical but with new songs by the acclaimed Neill Hannon (of The Divine Comedy) and sung by Timothee Chalamet , not blessed with the strongest of voices and tinkles through them but like so many modern day musicals the songs lack the earworm of the original underlined when both ‘Pure Imagination ‘ and The oompa-loompa song’ are re-introduced to the soundtrack and a reminder of what great songs they were. Which brings us to the oompa-loompa’s, singular in this case, as played by Hugh Grant and once more stealing the film in only a handful of scenes. It is his presence that the film really misses because despite its starry cast it is Grant who lingers in the mind and the film would have benefitted greatly from featuring far more. Chalamet channels the late great Gene Wilder and is an agreeable lead in what is a lavish production but a thin story.
related feature : Gene Wilder obituary
Here’s the Wonka trailer……