Quirky, and a classic
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Quirky, and a classic

The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar is delightful all-round

Quirky, and a classic
The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar (2023). (Photos © NETFLIX)

Wes Anderson, the mastermind behind quirky classics like The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), returns to the screen with a delightful short film, The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar. This Netflix original is his second adaptation of a Roald Dahl story, following the success of Fantastic Mr Fox in 2009. Clocking in as a short film, it might just be the most intriguing and thought-provoking cinematic nugget of its time. Anderson, renowned for his unique storytelling and star-studded casts, weaves a tale within a tale, presenting audiences with a visually stunning and thematically rich experience.

The premise revolves around Henry Sugar, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, a wealthy man with a penchant for gambling and a never-ending thirst for more money. When he stumbles upon the diary of Dr Chatterjee, played by Dev Patel, his life takes an unexpected turn. Dr Chatterjee's research is centred on a man with the extraordinary ability to see without eyes. The journey to acquire this skill is a laborious one, spanning two decades, under the tutelage of a great yogi. Henry, always on the lookout for an opportunity to increase his wealth, seizes upon this unique power as a means to read the backs of cards in casinos, intending to rake in vast sums of money through cheating.

For those unfamiliar with Wes Anderson's distinctive style, The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar may initially come across as a bit eccentric. It is quintessentially Anderson, characterised by its meticulous symmetry, idiosyncratic dialogue delivery, and a colour palette dominated by flat pastels. In this film, Anderson seems to out-Anderson himself, not just in terms of visual aesthetics but also in storytelling. The dialogue is presented as if the story is being read directly from a book, with characters often appending phrases like "I said" or "he said" at the end of their sentences, akin to how they might appear in written text. This narrative approach, while unconventional, adds a layer of chaotic charm to the fast-paced storytelling.

One aspect that demands attention is the set design. It is nothing short of breathtaking, meticulously thought out to the tiniest detail. The seamless transitions between scenes evoke the feeling of watching a live theatre production. Anderson's ability to blend elements of books, film, and theatre into a cohesive visual experience is truly remarkable and sets The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar apart as a unique cinematic achievement.

With only a handful of actors playing multiple roles, the film takes on a theatrical quality. Ralph Fiennes, portraying Roald Dahl himself, narrates the story, guiding the audience through its unfolding. As the narrative progresses, the actors address the camera directly, embodying their characters while performing subtle gestures. This departure from Anderson's usual style injects new visual interest into the film, complementing the meticulously designed sets and backgrounds.

From left, Dev Patel, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Richard Ayoade in The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar. 

Beyond the visual splendour, the film also offers a poignant message and moral. Henry's pursuit of riches through cheating and gambling forces him to re-evaluate his priorities, leading to a heartwarming transformation in the narrative. It's a reminder that the path to fulfilment may not always be paved with wealth and deception. The film excels in both its storytelling and presentation. The script is sharp, the dialogue is cleverly delivered, and the pacing is impeccable, resembling the precision of a metronome. The visuals and set designs, characterised by vibrant and lively colours, are a testament to Anderson's meticulous craftsmanship.

While it may initially come across as odd to newcomers, The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar rewards viewers with a rich and layered narrative experience. The film's blend of theatrical elements, stunning visuals, and a thought-provoking message make it a must-watch for fans of Anderson's eccentricities.

  • Roald Dahl’s The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar
  • Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel, Ben Kingsley
  • Directed by Wes Anderson
  • Now streaming on Netflix
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