The film starts off in London, when in London is not apparent as modern day London seems to merge seamlessly with the cobbled streets that are more suited to Victorian London than the present day. In this timeless version of London, we are quickly introduced to a sleepless Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who captures sight of the dream blowing BFG (Mark Rylance) and is quickly whisked off giant country where the land is populated by, as the name suggests, man eating giants. To defeat them, both Sophie and BFG seek the help of the Queen of England.
As to be expected from a Steven Spielberg film, the film’s visuals are superb. Not only is the GCI rendering of the BFG himself excellent (the way that items are adjusted to scale to fit his size and the way the giant’s facial emotions are captured is perfect) but the film’s production design, cinematography and the visual flourishes are wonderful. The scene where Sophie is first whisked away by the BFG has a great sense of terror and panic – even though you know her captor a friendliest of the giants – and the dramatic roller-coaster ride Sophie and the viewer are taken really emphasises this feeling of panic as the camera swings wildly whilst the BFG gallops and leaps his way home.
The BFG is a charming film, though arguably a little too charming in comparison to Dahl’s works which more often than not have dark themes interwoven into his novels. The main area where the film loses the chance to create genuine threat is with the man eating giants. The issue is that they were never particularly threatening and their dark mythology (discussed in the film) was never built upon. We were told these were man eating giants, but we never got the impression that they actually are.
However, the film’s delightfully charming central relationship between Sophie and the BFG is the beating heart of the film. The performances by both Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance are excellent, with Ruby displaying the perfect sense of innocence and awe and Rylance perfectly exhuming the gentleness and loving nature of the giant. You believe in their connection and their relationship, which almost turns into a father-daughter relationship, but the fact that their relationship is engaging isn’t enough to give the film a sense of threat.
The lack of dark threat is problematic as it was a major aspect of Dahl’s work, but the film has many clever touches of humour, including the scenes where the BFG visits Buckingham Palace and his attempts to camouflage himself in the streets of London so he not spotted by the drunks or the early morning workers. It’s not Spielberg’s best film, neither is it his best family oriented film, but it’s still an enjoyable film that does have a charming, magical feel about it.