Spielberg: Dahl’s Visionary Book, Anti-Semitism, Working with Mark Rylance

The BFG world premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Fest.

the_bfg_poster_spielbergProduced by Disney and Amblin Entertainment, in association with Walden Media, the film is directed by Steven Spielberg.

While a giant himself, The BFG (Mark Rylance, this year’s Oscar winner for The Bridge of Spies), is a Big Friendly Giant and nothing like the other inhabitants of Giant Country.

Standing 24-feet tall with enormous ears and a keen sense of smell, he is endearingly dim-witted and keeps to himself for the most part.

Giants like Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) on the other hand, are twice as big and at least twice as scary. They have been known to eat humans, while the BFG prefers Snozzcumber and Frobscottle.

Giant Country

Upon her arrival in Giant Country, Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), a precocious 10-year-old girl from London, is initially frightened of the mysterious giant who has brought her to his cave, but soon comes to realize that the BFG is actually quite gentle and charming, and, having never met a giant before, has many questions.

The BFG brings Sophie to Dream Country where he collects dreams and sends them to children, teaching her all about the magic and mystery of dreams.

Two Outsiders:

Having both been on their own in the world up until now, their affection for one another quickly grows. But Sophie’s presence in Giant Country has attracted the unwanted attention of the other giants, who have become increasingly more bothersome.

Sophie and the BFG soon depart for London to see the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and warn her of the precarious giant situation, but they must first convince the Queen and her maid, Mary (Rebecca Hall), that giants do indeed exist. Together, they come up with a plan to get rid of the giants once and for all.

Dahl’s Anti-Semitism

The topic of Dahl’s anti-Semitism cast a slight shadow over the press conference. “I wasn’t aware of any of Roald Dahl’s personal stories,” said Spielberg when asked about his knowledge of the late author’s views. “I was focused on this story he wrote.”  He added: “This is a story about embracing our differences.”

Dahl, the author of such beloved children’s books as The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr Fox, has been sullied by descriptions as “a fantasist, an anti-Semite, a bully and a self-publicizing trouble-maker,” according to a 1994 unauthorized biography by British writer Jeremy Treglown.

Dahl’s Bravery and Vision

Spielberg observed: It was very brave of Dahl to introduce that combination of darkness and light, which was so much Walt Disney’s original signature in a lot of his earlier films, like Dumbo, Fantasia, Snow White, and Cinderella.  Being able to be scary and redemptive at the same time, and teach a lesson, an enduring lesson to, to everyone–it was a wonderful thing for Dahl to have done. It was one of the things that attracted me to direct this Dahl book.

Spielberg said that making the film brought back feelings he had as a young filmmaker. It had been a wonderful reunion to work with the late writer Melissa Mathison, who penned the script for E.T. and who died in November. “And very bittersweet as it turned out for us.”

Kennedy added that Mathison was their first choice as writer, even thought she hadn’t been writing screenplays for a number of years: “We brought Melissa to work on Ponyo and she had an incredible time, and it was there we started talking about this project.”  Kennedy, who had first optioned the book in 1993, recalled: “Melissa immediately sparked to it.  It embodies all the things that Melissa is.”

E.T. premiered in Cannes 1982

Kennedy added that E.T. premiere in Cannes in 1982 was the “highlight of my career, and I’m sure for Steven too.”  It was even more special that The BFG was written that very year.

Penelope Wilton, who plays Queen Elizabeth in the film, joked that it was “about time” that she finally put one over Downton Abbey‘s Dowager Countess by having a  loftier aristocratic title.

Spielberg Directs Mark Rylance in Three Films

For Oscar winner Mark Rylance, The BFG marks his second of three back-to-back films he’s making with Spielberg.  The actor is now attached to Ready Player One.

“I just feel lucky to know him. I’m even luckier that we became friends,” said the director. I have a lot of acquaintances but I haven’t brought a lot of people into my life from the movies. I have such respect for Mark. We have so much fun together as buddies.”

For actor Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), getting a phone call from Spielberg brought to reality a joke he had often played in the past.  “I had so many imaginary conversations with Spielberg where I’d pretend I was was being called by him,” he said.

The film’s brightest star, 11-year-old British actress Ruby Barnhill, said: “The only thing that I’d ever done before this was going to a drama class for a very long time, and doing a children’s TV show.”

She then added: “It’s amazing to think that I’m here now. It’s a dream come true.”


Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader.