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The Witches, A Review

by Louisa Klein

First and foremost, let me say it: Anne Hathaway in this movie is beyond fantastic. Honestly, I was gobsmacked!

Until now, I saw her only in a number of romcoms that really didn’t let her shine and, having missed The Miserables (my bad) I was totally unaware of her true potential, totally unleashed in this new adaption of one of Road Dahl’s most popular books.

But what’s the story? In case you don’t know, here’s the blurb: “In late 1967, a young orphaned boy goes to live with his loving grandma in the rural Alabama town of Demopolis. As the boy and his grandmother encounter some deceptively glamorous but thoroughly diabolical witches, she wisely whisks him away to a seaside resort. Regrettably, they arrive at precisely the same time that the world’s Grand High Witch has gathered her fellow cronies from around the globe — under cover — to carry out her nefarious plans.”

This is of course Zemeckis’ adaptation, Dahl’s original story took place in Norway and London and starred super-white people (the guy was extra-racist).

I personally enjoyed this new version with Octavia Spencer (another great actress) and how the main characters were real black people and not wasps painted brown for the sake of political correctness. America has just come out of segregation and black people have been kept in utter poverty ever since, we see a young Octavia going around bare foot in her neighborhood, a sort of black ghetto which doesn’t even have proper streets and pavements, only mud. Racism is mentioned and tackled in a very tactful and sensitive way, so that kids can understand it without being traumatized and I also loved that.

Spencer’s performance is funny and delicate at the same time, she plays an old, no-nonsense granny who is yet very warmth and also incredibly brave and cool (we learn that she is a sort of voodoo priestess and magical healer): she’s great and I’m glad she had so much screen time, playing such a multi-layered character!

As for Hathaway, she’s clearly having a hell of a good time here! Her camping rendition of the High Witch is hilarious and terrifying at the same time, the most beautiful, elegant and absurd psychopath after the Joker, she’s a pleasure to watch!  Personally, I was also extremely happy to see her reunited with Stanley Tucci here, as he plays the hotel’s manager, Mr. Stringer.

Last but not least, I love the dark ending, which is the same as the book’s: While in the 1990 rendition of “The Witches” the boy is changed back into human by a good witch in this version, Zemeckis opts to stay true to the final pages of Dahl’s book where it’s revealed that the boy is destined to live the rest of his life as a mouse. This will considerably shorten his lifespan, as it emerges from a difficult conversation he has with his grandma who tells him that, since he is a “mouse-person” hybrid, he could live about nine years. The boy is thrilled. “That’s great! It’s the best news I’ve ever had!” he replies;  he doesn’t want to outlive his grandmother, who is nearly 90 in the book — he’s already lost both his parents— and given his reduced lifespan, the two could die around the same time.

Dahl clearly chose this ending for a reason: He knew that childhood isn’t only candies and toys and that death is something children should be aware of and should be able to talk about. He hated the happy ending in Nicholas Roeg’s version and, according to his widow Felicity, after watching the  1990 movie’s ending, he said: “Take my name off this thing. You’ve missed the whole point of the book.”, “I’d never seen him so upset”, she told the Telegraph.

So, overall, I really recommend this movie: watch under the Xmas tree while drinking choc, cozying-up with you kids or with your nerdish friends who, like me, want to stay kids.  

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