Roald Dahls childrens stories come with a gleefully malicious undertow, one where the deserving receive grotesque punishments and the unassuming and good-natured are rewarded. Nicolas Roeg is a director often overtaken by his pretensions towards artistic affect. He is certainly a peculiar name to find attached to a Roald Dahl adaptation. Nevertheless, Roeg keeps his tendency to pretensions in check and does a particularly good job of preserving Roald Dahls macabre essence.
The Witches is a film that genuinely takes one aback with its gleeful malice, especially so when placed in comparison to the blandly G-rated inoffensiveness of other childrens films. Nicolas Roeg serves up some marvellously horrid images of decapitated fingers and witches malevolently pushing baby carriages from cliffs. There is a tour-de-force of makeup grotesquerie in the scene where the witches remove their wigs to reveal scabrous scalps beneath and Anjelica Huston shows her true form as a horny, warted witch with a giant proboscis, and where they gleefully hold Jasen Fisher down to turn him into a mouse. There is also a beautifully self-contained vignette at the start of the film where Mai Zetterling tells the haunting story of a childhood friend who was left trapped in a painting by a witch where the image would move to a different position every day.
Equally, Nicolas Roeg also preserves the other side of Roald Dahl, the one that offers a poignant sweetness in contrast to the macabre. The Witches reaches a lovely ending with Charlie Potters mouse boy insisting he is perfectly happy as he is: Ill live in the kitchen cupboard. No more school, no more homework ... Dont worry, Mum, youll get used to it and the wonderful final images with him riding around his house in a toy train and flying in a model plane. The overall result is sublime.
Other Roald Dahl screen works include:- the short-lived anthology tv series Way Out (1961), which Dahl wrote for and hosted; the screenplays for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968); the childrens classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971); the psycho-thriller The Night Digger (1971); and the tv series Tales of the Unexpected (1979-81), an anthology series adapting Dahls macabre tales. The BFG (1989), James and the Giant Peach (1996), Matilda (1996), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and The BFG (2016) are posthumous adaptations of Roald Dahls childrens works.
Nicolas Roegs other genre films are: Dont Look Now (1973), a film about precognition; The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) about an alien visitor; the surrealist Dennis Potter collaboration Track 29 (1988); the supernatural thriller Cold Heaven (1991); and Puffball (2007) about witchcraft and pregnancy.