Timothee Chalamet in Wonka [Jaap Buittendijk / Warner Bros]
WONKA Directed by Paul King Certificate: PG ☆☆☆☆
IF it hadn’t got his name writ large above the title, you would still know immediately that this is the work of director Paul King.
He brought us the Primrose Hill-filmed Paddington, a tale that was an extended advert for the UK, a cinematic version of the nation that in all probability making a better fist of projecting a good image of the nation than our foreign secretary Lord Cameron.
Here King has essentially transplanted the same cast into a film that just feels more than similar. For a cuddly bear from Peru, you have the young Wonka, a new arrival in a big bad city who just wants to make friends and make chocolate, as opposed to make friends and eat marmalade sandwiches.
Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) lands in Paris after galavanting around the world collecting rare cocoa beans. He wants to open a shop in what looks suspiciously like Leadenhall Market, but there are three rival chocolate makers to overcome.
Then there is the fact that Wonka has been forced into slave labour by the evil washerwoman (Olivia Colman), and is joined over stealing vats of sheets and pillows with others hoodwinked by this snag-toothed baddie.
So Wonka has to escape the launderette, free his friends, overcome the choccie cartel, open a shop, all while milking a giraffe and creating wondrous yummy sweets.
None of it makes sense but it’s a nice homage to the skill of Roald Dahl as a character creator. The over-the-top baddies and the motley collection of goodies are straight from the playbook Dahl invented, much copied since.
With so many enjoyable moments – Wonka’s suitcase chocolate factory, the trio of baddies with Dahl-like names (Prodnose, Fickelgruber and Slugworth) – the cast of great British faces means the fact the plot feels little like it was created using the dinner party game, Consequences, is neither here nor there.
Plot twists are giant, route-changing diversions which take away from the undefined destination.
There is one superb element that makes the experience that much sweeter – a show-stealing turn from Hugh Grant. It seems a shame to offer up a plot spoiler as to the role this ageing English heartthrob has landed, as his first appearance is wonderfully giggle-inducing.
It fits perfectly with his burgeoning reputation as a very good comic actor.
Grant’s role is a magnificent piece of casting and screams sequel: you will want to see what he and Wonka get up to next.