What more fitting way to celebrate Roald Dahl’s centenary than a film adaptation of his favourite of his children’s stories by Steven Spielberg?
The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) was published in 1982, the same year as Spielberg was making a name for himself with E.T. It was Dahl's favourite of his own books, and contains many of the elements that make books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach or Matilda so memorable: children heroes, over-the-top villains, friendship, fantasy, and a lot of mischievous humour.
It tells the story of an orphan, Sophie, who one night looks out of her dormitory window and sees a giant blowing a trumpet into a bedroom window. When he notices her presence, the giant kidnaps her and takes her off to giant country. At first, Sophie is terrified, until she discovers her abductor is the “Big Friendly Giant”, and, unlike his violent, cannibal brothers, is a strict vegetarian. The BFG collects and mixes dreams, which he blows into children’s bedrooms with his trumpet. Together, Sophie and the BFG come up with a plan to alert the British Queen about the presence of child-gobbling giants determined to raid English schools for food, and they set off for Buckingham Palace, with hilarious results.
The BFG film stars Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall, Bridge of Spies) as the titular giant, and 11-year-old Ruby Barnhill as Sophie. It is Ruby’s first film role, though she had a part in a BBC children’s programme.
Snozcumbers and Human Beans
Dahl loved to play with language and the BFG is a prime example: he learned to speak English from reading Nicholas Nickleby by “Dahl’s Chickens” – a Spoonerism that is typical of the BFG’s way of speaking, which Roald Dahl dubbed “gobble funk”. Who could resist eating something that is described as “scrumdiddlyumptious”? The rhythm and the way the words roll around your mouth – or ears – is utterly irresistible.
Here is the scene where the BFG meets the incredibly phlegmatic Queen:
“Oh Majester!” cried the BFG. “Oh Queen! Oh Monacher! Oh Golden Sovereign! Oh Ruler! Oh Ruler of Straight Lines! Oh Sultana! I is come here with my little friend Sophie…. to give you a….” The BFG hesitated, searching for the word.
“To give me what?” the Queen said.
“A sistance,” the BFG said, beaming.
The Queen looked puzzled.
“He sometimes speaks a bit funny, Your Majesty,” Sophie said. “He never went to school.”
A hundred years after his birth, Roald Dahl is as popular as ever. Look out for lots of events celebrating his centenary, including a BFG Dream Jar Trail in London.
Pupils generally recognise Dahl’s work from books or films, so it is a rich subject for class work. We’ve collected some suggestions below for teaching with The BFG.
In cinemas 20 July
> The BFG Webpicks
> Teaching with Roald Dahl