In twentieth-century literature, Roald Dahl is the most influential, exciting and beloved of children’s authors, whose back catalogue has enthralled generations of children and spawned a long selection of film adaptations – some certainly better than others. Our faces still stained with chocolate from the eggs we’ve indulged in, the best post-Easter solution for aching tummies is more sweetie goodness. With kids off school for a fortnight and parents looking for the perfect way to keep everybody happy, maybe the Grosvenor Cinema and Grosvenor Café have the solution with a delicious, special showing of the delightful 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on Friday 12th April.
The special screening at the Grosvenor Cinema is part of the ‘Grosvenor and the Chocolate Factory’. This spectacular way to round off the Grosvenor’s ‘Family Easter’ includes the Grosvenor Cinema’s screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory before trekking up the soda-stream steps so that little kids and big ones too can enjoy hand-crafted peanut butter fudge lollies, blueberry gobstoppers, real fizzy lifting juice, chocolate teacups and passion fruit tea all -not to mention the crowning glory: a 10-foot chocolate river complete with marshmallow boats! – all ingeniously prepared by the kitchen-boffins and chocolatiers of the Grosvenor Cafe.
The film follows young, innocent, poor little Charlie Bucket, who lives with his mother and four bed-bound grandparents in an awful one-room home. Meanwhile, the world is coming together in excitement as the famous Wonka Chocolate Factory promises to open its doors for the first time in years to five lucky competition winners. Charlie’s family can only afford one chocolate bar a year, so he thinks he’s out of luck, but when he finds the final ticket he, along with four far nastier spoiled children, enter a wonderland and come face to face with the owner Willy Wonka himself. The film follows the five children in their adventure round the factory and the exciting inventions that await them.
Gene Wilder as the enigmatic Willy Wonka is the centre piece of the film. He doesn’t appear in person during the first half, but still maintains a presence through the awestruck stories of the townspeople, such as in the opening song, “The Candy Man”, in which Aubrey Woods‘ candy shop owner describes Wonka with powers to make dreams come true through his confectionary. When he finally does appear, about to begin the children’s tour of the factory, Wonka limps slowly forward towards the gate, leaning on a cane. The massive crowd outside who have been cheering all fall silent at the sight of the mystery. There are no fireworks, no musical cue, and not even eye contact, and the disappointment ripples through the onlookers right down to the audience in their seats. Then suddenly, with no wink or nod to warn us, Wonka starts to fall forward before effortlessly moving into a roll and landing straight back on his feet. With a smile to confirm the ruse, the crowd erupt into cheers and the viewer is left excited and unsure of what awaits them with this tricky tour guide. The execution of this moment makes the scene iconic and sets up the tour and character brilliantly.
Wonka’s dream-weaver image is shattered by Wilder’s portrayal of a sometimes apathetic, sometimes mischievous, often sarcastic businessman, who cares only for flamboyant stunts and his precious factory. He relishes in stirring disputes between the children and their parents and is disarmingly disrespectful to the adults on the tour. When the children decide to disobey, he doesn’t try and stop them sincerely, preferring to wait for their always-poetic punishments. There is an assuredness that things are going to sort themselves out, that he does not need to intervene, and that he holds no responsibility for the winner’s actions. He remains calm throughout the film and only raises his temper when his factory is negatively affected. It shows where his priorities lie and makes for a performance that only gets better with age as you re-watch and notice all his eye rolls, cane swinging and comebacks that will have gone over your head as a youngster.
Gene Wilder plays the part perfectly. He throws in tiny details throughout that keep your eyes on him which, given some of the sets, is an incredible feat. There aren’t many people who could be both a clearly flawed human yet someone you are drawn to and actually want to side with in anticipating what will happen to the next awful visitor.
The songs throughout the film play second-fiddle to Willy Wonka but are by no means far behind. The film opens with “The Candy Man” which charms all listeners and stands incredibly well as a tune outside the context of the film. Wonka’s dreamlike “Pure Imagination” in the candy garden scene twinkles beautifully, especially in contrast to the anarchic, greedy behaviour of the children during it. The “(I’ve Got A) Golden Ticket” theme is as iconic a victory motif as any other tune. Finally, there are the hum-worthy, morale-teaching, dry-witted, brilliant, cheeky, badly choreographed Oompa Loompa songs, sung when the children leave the tour one-by-one in appropriately ironic ways.
The dark side to the film keeps it completely in line with Dahl’s own style which was never patronising to children and often relished in pushing expectations. It is comparable to The Wizard of Oz in its child-friendly scares. The frenzy over finding tickets, when Charlie is crowded by greedy adults when he finds his ticket and when tickets are faked by grown men hints at the worrying grasp of consumerism in the real world. The factory itself is grey and rotting. The gates are locked and only the letters on the side of a smog tower suggests any life inside at all. It is unappealing and barely hints at the magical world that might lie inside, much like Wonka himself. The surprising and twisted endings that each of the ticket holders find themselves victim to are amazingly cruel for being a family film and are all dealt with an incredible amount of flippancy by Willy and the Oompa Loompas. The children, once they exit the film and their parents are escorted from the scene, are never seen again. When asked whether they are alright, Wonka refuses to give a definite answer and it is the ambiguity which is truly terrifying. The most explicitly scary scene in the entire movie is the boat-trip scene. Floating down a tunnel, the scene, which follows directly from the beautiful candy garden, is strange and mind-bending. It’s a claustrophobic scene, in which Wonka chants a sinister song through a poorly-lit tunnel with frightening images of bugs on the walls. The guests’ panic is palpable as the boat speeds up and Wonka, in a trance-like state does nothing to relax them. It’s simultaneously challenging to watch while being too fabulous to look away, but when the lights turn back on Wonka has switched his persona again and is back to being his jolly self.
The sets hold up remarkably well for being a forty year old film. The physical garden still looks absolutely wonderful, particularly the famously real chocolate river (which apparently spoiled quickly and had to all be thrown out). The design of the Oompa Loompas is flawless. Their matching appearance – green hair, orange faces and white dungarees – is a weird visual, as they are all played by different actors. Even the camera and perception tricks hold up well, such as when Mike Teevee shrinks in the Wonkavision room. The two striking colour palates of the interior of the factory and the world outside provide a contrast which emphasises the fantasy of Wonka’s world.
Whether this is your first time seeing the film, or you haven’t seen it in years, or if this is your chance to introduce a younger relative to one of the most remarkable children’s tales ever created, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at the Grosvenor is this spring’s Golden Ticket. Indulge in Gene Wilder’s incredible performance, celebrate as the spoilt brats receive their comeuppance, and bite your fingernails in excitement as the factory gates open for the lucky few. This one-off screening will also give you access to a post-film chocotastic collection of treats upstairs in The Grosvenor Cafe all provided by the local, wonderful, Chocolate Factory. If you thought your chocolate fill for the holiday was over with the end of your eggs, then think again.
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