Wes Anderson returns to the feverish mind of Roald Dahl for this charming adaptation of The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar. Premiering at Venice Film Festival, this nearly-40-minute short marks Anderson’s first collaboration with Netflix, after the streamer paid a whopping $686million for the Roald Dahl Story Company back in 2021. Anderson, who previously brought us 2009’s animated Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the Dahl story, had reportedly wanted to adapt Henry Sugar for years.
Taken from the title story of Dahl’s 1977 anthology The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar And Six More, Anderson’s film begins with Dahl (Ralph Fiennes) in his cosy hut in the garden of Gipsy House, his Buckinghamshire home, where he’s surrounded by everything he needs to work: cigarettes, coffee, chocolate and all-important pencils. Dressed in red trousers and a beige cardigan, Fiennes, who previously featured in Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, is just the right side of spiky to play Dahl.
The aforementioned Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch), explains Dahl, is the sort of man that can be found “drifting like seaweed” all over the world. He’s an inveterate gambler, obsessed with accumulating wealth. One day, he finds in a library a book telling the story of Imdad Khan (Sir Ben Kingsley), also known as ‘The Man Who Can See Without Using His Eyes’. Arriving at a hospital, Khan entrusts two doctors (Dev Patel, Richard Ayoade) to run tests – temporarily glueing his eyes shut and more – to see if he really can navigate without sight.
As Khan explains, he learnt this trick from a yogi in the jungle. “He might be the most valuable man alive,” suggests Patel’s quack, thinking that the blind might benefit. Henry Sugar, of course, has more avaricious ideas. This concertina-style approach – stories within stories, basically – is right up Anderson’s strasse, as they say. Even more so, given the theatrical telling. Scenery slides back and forth, as if we’re watching a West End production; as ever with Anderson, the design is meticulous.
Some can find this style cloying, but it suits this glorified short perfectly, never outstaying its welcome. The main cast also pop up in multiple roles: Ayoade is the yogi, Fiennes an angry policeman, and Kingsley a croupier, to name but three. The actors also really find the storytelling groove here. Patel, as the doctor, is constantly cocking his head back and forth, addressing the audience as he unloads his part of the story. As for Ayoade, well, his quirky charms are tailor-made for the Anderson-verse.
Rattling along at a breakneck pace – it makes the director’s The French Dispatch look like a l’escargot race – it’s filled with make-you-smile moments. Top of them being Kingsley looking a bit like the Michelin Man, when he’s bandaged up by the docs to test his sight skills. It’s not exactly profound, but if the message is that money can be used for good, then that’s no bad thing. With three other Dahl shorts set to accompany this when it all drops on Netflix, this is nirvana for fans of both the author and Anderson.
- Director: Wes Anderson
- Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Richard Ayoade
- Release date: September 27 (Netflix)