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The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar ★★★★



Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel, Ben Kingsley, Richard Ayoade

Release: 27th September 2023 (Netflix)

Wes Anderson has been on one of the most prolific streaks of his career with The French Dispatch and Asteroid City released in the past two years; he has somehow managed to adapt four of Roald Dahl’s short stories for Netflix. The first and longest is The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, coming in at 40 minutes. It is not Andersons’ first foray into the world of the much-loved children’s author, adapting Fantastic Mr. Fox for the big screen in 2009. While that took the bare bones of the Dahl tale and expanded it with added Anderson regulars and his trademark quirkiness and visual panache, his adaptations here are more faithful retellings, perhaps owing to being less well-known tales.

The cast is mainly new collaborators for Anderson, led by Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role with Dev Patel, Ben Kingsley and Richard Ayoade; the returning face is Ralph Fiennes, who memorably worked with Anderson on The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fiennes is our narrator and plays Dahl, working from his writing shed in his house in Great Missenden. Gradually, the story unfolds, showing Henry Sugar, a wealthy man who seeks more wealth, who discovers the story of a man who can see without using his eyes, played by Kingsley.

The story within a story structure is like that employed by Anderson in his last two features. Still, it suits the story’s structure being adapted here, and with revolving sets and our characters narrating the story, it has a play-like quality. The structural choices also mean this is a very faithful retelling of the story, and the cast of actors assembled here are the perfect choices for the fast-paced dialogue; we can only hope they get the opportunity to work further with Anderson in future.

It has all the trappings we have come to expect with Anderson: immaculate visuals, added sets and wonderful production design. It is equipped with another delightful score from Alexandre Desplat. Rarely does it feel like there is a second wasted, and while this may be a short film, it is still dripping with rich detail that shows the prowess of Dahl as a storyteller and Anderson as a director, a match made in cinematic heaven and with the other shorts, is set to delight both fans of the author and filmmaker.

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