Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Entertainment Review: The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Wes Anderson and Roald Dahl are a match if a film needs to be colourful, whimsical, thoughtful and funny.  Like the vivid imagination of Dahl, the writer of children’s books (that probably appealed more to adults), Anderson’s style is quirky and over the top to just the right level.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is the director’s second adaptation of a Dahl story, after The Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) and his first collaboration with Netflix– a marvellous combination of live action, animation and theatre.

Ralph Fiennes plays Dahl, fussily arranging pencils and things in his tangerine-coloured writing hut, to narrate a supposedly true story of Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch), one of those wealthy English aristocrats who never work a day in their lives, and  have to find ways to amuse themselves through their idleness. Henry is fond of gambling.  Dahl writes, “Men like Henry Sugar are to be found drifting like seaweed all over the world. They can be seen especially in London, New York, Paris, Nassau, Montego Bay, Cannes, and San Tropez. They are not particularly bad men, but they are not good men either. They are of no particular importance; they’re simply part of the decoration.”

Henry accidentally finds, in a friend’s library, a slim book, written by a Dr ZZ Chatterjee (Dev Patel), about a man he encountered in the Calcutta hospital where he worked. Imdad Khan (Ben Kingsley) is the chief attraction of  a travelling circus and his special power is that he can see without the use of his eyes.  He learnt the skill of meditation and concentration from a yogi in India and mastered it after years of practice.  Henry is intrigued and following instructions from the book, starts the concentration exercises on his own. After a few years, of diligent practice, he is able to see without using his eyes, which allows him to win at the gambling tables. The easily acquired wealth does not sit well with him, however, and he plans to put it to good use. A story of a man’s spiritual awakening is narrated with warmth and wit.

The stars are all pitch-perfect, throwing themselves to Anderson’s zany world as if they belonged there.

Dahl’s writing is enjoyable as it is, but Anderson’s inventive style of filming , makes it a delight to watch. The characters address the camera directly speaking Dahl’s words as they perform their scenes. Around then locations transform, like in the theatre, with quick changes of painted backdrops. They are so beautiful, and the film just short enough to merit another viewing, just to admire the art.

The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar

Directed by We Anderson

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

On Netflix

Deepa Gahlot
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best-known entertainment journalists. A National Award-winning fim critic and author of several books on film and theatre. She tweets at @deepagahlot

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