Film review The Witches (PG)

A still from The Witches starring Anne Hathaway

A still from The Witches starring Anne Hathaway - Credit: Archant

Remake of the Roald Dahl story switches the action to sixties Alabama but it’s little more than a boring pantomime that talks down to children

This new version of the Roald Dahl classic certainly put a spell on me: within minutes of it starting I felt oppressively and disproportionately bored.

This take switches events from 80s Bournemouth to late 60s Alabama, and turns main characters from white British to black American, but seems to be generally faithful to the story.

This is though a thoroughly pedestrian run-through of the events in Dahl’s book; it’s got everything except whatever it is that people like about it.

Like all good children’s stories, it starts with a kid (Bruno) becoming orphaned, and like all good Dahl stories, it has a gluttonous fat kid in it.

(Never mind anti-Semitism, misogyny and racism, Dahl was rabidly stoutist.)

The orphaned kid goes to live with grandma (Spencer) and learns all about the existence of child hating witches. When one appears locally, granny decides to get away to a plush hotel, where the coven are having a get together to hear The Great High Witch (Hathaway) explain her new plan.

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The production design is bright and clear, the coven of witches all have extended Joker smiles and there are plenty of whizz-bang special effects that children may find legitimately scary.

But there’s nothing here that constitutes actual magic. Spencer makes for an endearing and sassy granny, but Hathaway and Tucci are pantomime level. It is a children’s film that doesn’t really get children. It can’t find their level and therefore ends up talking down to them.

2/5 stars

Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Jahzir Bruno, Kristen Chenoweth and Chris Rock. Available to stream from October 26th. Running time: 103 mins