This is a bumper year for Wes Anderson acolytes. There was the marvellous Asteroid City a month ago, and now there is this stunning adaptation of a Roald Dahl short story, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. Anderson returns to Dahl after the stop-motion animation Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is part of Dahl’s 1977 short story collection, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel, Ben Kingsley, Rupert Friend, Richard Ayoade
Storyline: A rich man finds out how to get richer, and then has an epiphany
Duration: 39 minutes
Dahl (Ralph Fiennes) tells the story of Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch), a rich, rather greedy man who stumbles upon a simple exercise book holding a magical secret. In the book, Henry reads an account by a doctor named Dr. ZZ Chatterjee (Dev Patel), in 1935 Calcutta, about a Man Who Sees Without Using His Eyes.
The man, Imdad Khan (Ben Kingsley) ran away to join a traveling circus at the age of 13 and when he is 17, meets The Great Yogi (Richard Ayoade) who can levitate as well as see through solid objects. The Great Yogi teaches Imdad his meditation practice, which allows Imdad to perform miraculous feats with his eyes glued shut, soft dough over them and securely blindfolded.
Henry becomes obsessed with this superpower, but once he masters the seeing-without-eyes trick, it is time for an epiphany. Like Dahl’s stories, the short film too has this level of quirk which is delicious without being cloying.
The jungle with the prowling tiger, the gorgeous Georgian casino, and the train of the traveling circus puffing away importantly at the top of the frame, all add irresistible layers of enchantment to this fable-like film. Robert Yeoman’s cinematography shores up the pop-up look and feel of the film.
The all-star cast is a treat for the eyes. While Anderson, who has also written the screenplay, has eschewed Sugar’s Hollywood (though Cumberbatch does cut a nifty figure in a dress and pearls) and Mafia shenanigans, but has kept enough of the original for buckets of weird and wonderful. And there are three more shorts based on Dahl’s short stories, ‘The Swan’, ‘The Ratcatcher’ and ‘Poison’ coming up. What fun!
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is currently streaming on Netflix