The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

A little magic goes a long way: A personal childhood journey with Matilda

Written by: Bianca Garner, CC2K Staff Writer

This is quite a personal piece, and it has been hard to write but I felt compelled to write this article. As a child, I had a tragic accident which resulted in three degree burns to my legs, I still have the scars today. This meant that I was in and out of hospital for great periods of time. Having to stay in hospital for such a long time affected me in a lot of different ways, it meant I missed time off school and fell behind in my education. However, my medical condition also helped shape my love for books and films. I honestly don’t know whether I would be as passionate about film as I am today, if I hadn’t had this incident take place.

It was during these frequent trips to the hospital, that I became a fan of Roald Dahl and his books, there were many that I read such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and The Fantastic Mr Fox. However, there was one that I was drawn back to time after time, that was Matilda. There was something about the character of Matilda which I could easily identify with. She starts off as a lonely child, with only her books for company. The character of Matilda was also an honest, decent person who used her intelligence as her super power. She may have been a child, but she wasn’t afraid to take on bullies like her father, and the dreaded headteacher Mrs Trunchball.

The film adaptation was released in 1996, directed by the wonderfully funny Danny DeVito who narrated the film and also played Matilda’s father . I instantly adored the film, as it helped to give a face to the character of Matilda, played by the excellent Mara Wilson. The film may have been set in America (Dahl’s story was based in the UK), but I could still connect to the character of Matilda and her experiences. Wilson’s performance help to capture the loneliness of the character, something that a seven-year old such as myself might not have necessarily picked upon during their reading of the source material. The film features many scenes of Matilda fending for herself, from having to cook breakfast for herself, to walking alone to the library.

There was something touching and genuine about Wilson’s performance, with her expressive eyes that seem to resonate sadness. Years later, in her touching memoir, Wilson revealed that she loss her mother six months after the film wrapped. She discusses this in an interview with Parade back in 2013, ”Filming had wrapped and it was about six months later, while we were doing post-production work, when my mother passed away. I remember feeling, when I was part of Matilda, that it was nice because I could focus on that and I could focus on everything good that was going on in my life” Rewatching the film now, it is clear that we are seeing a young girl struggling to come to terms with the illness of a parent. Although, I wasn’t aware of what Wilson was going through at the time, perhaps I could pick up on this and  somehow relate to Wilson’s pain, as I also lost a parent at a young age. Reading Wilson’s experiences during the filming of Matilda, is inspiring as it shows how brave she was and also is sad reminder that many child stars have to keep on performing even when they are experiencing great loss in their lives.

Matilda may face issues with neglectful parents, a bullying brother, and a psychopathic head teacher, but she never allows these people to hold her back. Her determination is admirable and even when she has moments of doubt such as a touching scene where she cries alone in her bedroom with the camera looming over her so she appears small and insignificant, she never allows her situation to hold her back. Matilda remains a strong role model for young girls due to her use of intelligence, good nature, and determination. Unlike, the problematic nature of Disney Princesses, Matilda never seems passive or two-dimensional, but a well-rounded, developed character who is part of the action and moves the narrative along by her decisions and engagement.