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Film REVIEW: Wonka (2023) - ★★★★

Updated: Jan 19

Timothée Chalamet as the young Willy Wonka is just the start. From Britpackers high on Hoverchocs to Rowan Atkinson being trampled by a giraffe, the Wonka cast is the ensemble of your dreams.

Director: Paul King

Writer: Simon Farnaby, Paul King

based on characters by Roald Dahl

Stars: Timothee Chalamet, Calah Lane, Keegan-Michael Key, Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, Matthew Baynton, Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson, Jim Carter, Natasha Rothwell, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family

Themes: Prequel, Origin Story, Willy Wonka

With dreams of opening a shop in a city renowned for its chocolate, a young and poor Willy Wonka discovers that the industry is run by a cartel of greedy chocolatiers.

It tells the origin story of Willy Wonka, a character in the 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

It is the third live-action film based on Dahl's novel, following Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).

In Cinemas Now


Jan (Age 12) - ★★★1/2

"It was an okay film, not very entertaining. This movie was something similar to prequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The characters weren't very interesting, and the scenes in which it shows that the police was corrupt and that the chocolate makers were in control of them. Only two characters really caught my attention; Willy Wonka and the oompaloompa. To be honest I would have preferred to watch 'Home Alone' or something along those lines, rather than this."

Evan (Age 12) - ★★★★★

"Wonka was absolutely brilliant! It was a completely different story to any other Willy Wonka movie. The casting was amazing. It was nice to see actors who normally play quite serious roles really having fun and being so extra! The somgs were original and stuck in my head for days - I now know every word that rhymes with noodle! Overall a scrum-diddly-umptious performance by everyone.""

Have you seen it yet?


Timothee Chalemet is Willy Wonka

This guy, you think you already know. Yes, but the Willy Wonka you’ve met in the movies so far is an embittered, sadistic, middle-aged hermit, cheerfully subjecting children to confectionary-themed torture and disfigurement.

Timothée Chalamet’s (Interstellar, Dune) character is a complete rewrite, reimagining the chocolatier in his twenties, when his heart was brimming with wonder and magic – and hadn’t yet hardened into a black gobstopper. This Wonka is still formulating his first recipes, daydreaming of opening his first chocolate shop – and partial to a song-and-dance routine with umbrellas.

It’s a massive coup for director Paul King (Paddington series) to secure a talent of Chalamet’s calibre and his ageless twinkle is the beating heart of Wonka. “This is a Willy that’s full of joy, hope and desire to become the greatest chocolatier,” Chalamet told Vogue. “When there’s so much bad news all the time, this film is hopefully going to be a piece of chocolate.


Matt Lucas is Prodnose, Matthew Baynton is Fickelgruber and Paterson Joseph is Arthur Slugworth

Forget Don Corleone’s crime clan in The Godfather. Hinted at in Roald Dahl’s original 1964 book, the most ruthless mob on earth is the Chocolate Cartel – a gang so vicious that those who cross them wake up with the Easter Bunny’s head in their bed.

When Wonka arrives in the non-specific European city that provides the movie’s backdrop, he’s full of dreams of the chocolate shop he’ll open in the Gallery Gourmet – but quickly warned off by this tweedy trio, played by Britpack favourites Matt Lucas (Alice in Wonderland, Doctor Who), Mathew Baynton (Hereafter, Ghosts, Horrible Histories) and Paterson Joseph (Timeless). “A good chocolate should be simple,” they chide him. “Whereas this – it’s just weird…”


Calah Lane is Noodle

Noodle’s had a hard time of it, but Chalamet’s chocolatier pinkie-promises this adorable orphan that better days lie ahead as his sous-chef.

Trouble is, when you associate with Wonka, you end up a target for the Chocolate Cartel – and one memorable trailer scene sees Noodle threatened with drowning in molten chocolate (not as nice as it sounds). “Calah Lane (This is Us) is wonderful,” says director Paul King of the Dallas-raised actress, “and she's able to encapsulate this wise, 'old head on young shoulders' kind of character.”


Keegan-Michael Key is the Chief of Police

Previously best-known as the ‘other’ half of US comedy duo Key & Peele (alongside Jordan Peele), Keegan-Michael Key (Toy Story 4) is now established as a force in Hollywood, with recent voice work taking in The Lego Movie and The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

Now, he plays the police chief whose sleepy beat turns surreal when Wonka starts handing out Hoverchocs. “Nothing to see here,” barks the lawman, “just a small group of people defying the laws of gravity.”


Sally Hawkins is Willy Wonka's Mother

It doesn’t take a psychologist to know the chocolatier of later movies has serious baggage – and with the Wonka trailer hinting that Paddington’s Sally Hawkins (Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Godzilla) will appear in visions and flashbacks, we fear tragedy has already struck. “Over the course of the movie, we learn a lot more about where Willy Wonka has come from, and what his childhood was like,” director Paul King told Empire. “So you learn in flashback more about why he's so driven. That's really what the movie is about.


Rowan Atkinson is Father Julius

The legend has form as a befuddled priest – revisit Four Weddings And A Funeral – but he’s never been pursued through the pews by an escaped giraffe before. Rowan Atkinson (The Lion King, Johnny English) only has one line in the Wonka trailer – a Bean-like bleat of “Run away!” – so we’re hoping for more comedy gold.


Jim Carter is Abacus Crunch

After two Downton Abbey movies as Mr Carson – plus a squillion other credits – you’d know Jim Carter’s mahogany-buffed voice anywhere. But in the Wonka trailer, his character Abacus Crunch is full of foreboding. “Many people have come here to sell chocolate,” he tells Wonka. “They’ve all been crushed by the Chocolate Cartel…”


Tom Davis is Bleacher and Olivia Colman is Mrs. Scrubbit

They might have been dreamt up by director Paul King and screenwriter Simon Farnaby (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), but as Noodle’s cruel employers, Bleacher and Scrubbit are as vile as anything in Roald Dahl’s imagination.

“They’re proper Dahl-esque grotesque characters,” King told Empire, “who have what I hope is a touching story, but are mostly deeply evil”. It’s a mark of the Wonka cast’s insane star-power, meanwhile, that Oscar-winner Olivia Colman (Murder on the Orient Express, The Father) and Murder In Successville’s Tom Davis aren’t the marquee stars but the supporting cast.


Natasha Rothwell is Piper Benz

We’ll admit it, we don’t know too much about Piper Benz – she appears in the Wonka trailer for all of three seconds, dressed vaguely like a servant, looking shocked at the chocolate-maker’s latest madcap invention. But whatever happens, expect Emmy-nominated US actress/comedian Natasha Rothwell (Wonder Woman 1984) – best-known for the Sonic movies and this month’s Disney hit Wish – to spread the joy.

“I think I'm drawn to stories – especially post the height and peak of the pandemic – that spread goodness and love,” Rothwell told Screen Rant, “and I think that's at the heart of both Sonic and of Wonka.”


Rich Fulcher is Larry Chucklesworth

Rich Fulcher is loved for comedy series on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, in Wonka, the Massachusetts-born motormouth plays Larry Chucklesworth, who looks from his poster to be a radio jock.


Rakhee Thakrar is Lottie Bell

Best-known to British audiences for her time as EastEnders’ Shabnam Masood, Rakhee Thakrar (Summerland) made Hollywood in-roads with 2020’s touching 23 Walks and now plays (we think) radio operator Lottie Bell. “What I can tell you is that it’s going to be amazing,” says Thakrar. “Paul King – who directed Paddington – is just the best. It’s going to be brilliant.”


Hugh Grant is Lofty, an Oompa Loompa

Now in his sixties, Hugh Grant (Glass Onion, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) has had a ton of fun lately by dropping the smoothie heartthrob roles and embracing flawed characters spanning from failed actors (Paddington 2) to disgraced politicians (A Very English Scandal). For Wonka, the star is shrunk and painted with creosote to play the original Oompa Loompa, caught sneaking into the chocolatier’s house to raid his sweetie jar.

As Lofty, he’s posh (of course), uppity and indignant to be described as ‘little’ (“In fact, in Loompa Land, I am regarded as something of a whopper…”). “The voice and the attitude of the Oompa Loompa came from revisiting the books – long songs full of humour, sarcasm, superiority and scorn,” Paul King told Total Film.


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