A girl named Sophie encounters the Big Friendly Giant who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kind-hearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.
Remarkably this is the first-live action adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic novel and who better to bring it to the screen than the master himself, Steven Spielberg? Dahl’s book, The BFG, was released in 1982, coincidently the same year that Spielberg was wowing cinematic audiences with his blockbuster E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
The screenwriter of E.T. was Melissa Mathison and it is Mathison who has adapted the author’s timeless adventure for the big screen.
“Melissa was the first and only writer we thought of,” says executive producer Kathleen Kennedy. “Her gifts as a writer and her particular sensibility were essential to bringing Dahl’s visionary tale to life.”
When reading Dahl’s book, the screenwriter was drawn to the bond between Sophie and the BFG. “It is a very sweet relationship,” she said, “But they actually start oﬀ a little combative and are suspicious of one another and even have their own little power struggles. But from the moment they have a plan and move forward as partners, there’s just so much love between them. It’s a wonderful little love story."
Mathison visited Gipsy House, Dahl’s home in Buckinghamshire, on numerous occasions, where she was given access to the author’s library and study. There, she explored the life and works of this extraordinary writer to chart her own path into the wild, funny and rich landscape of his imagination, which her capture the spirit of Dahl’s adventure and the relationship at its heart.
Of utmost importance to the filmmakers was remaining faithful to Dahl’s voice, keeping consistent with the author’s rhythm, language and the interaction between his characters. “I tried to use Dahl’s dialogue verbatim as much as possible,” Mathison said. “We didn’t want to tamper with the tone.”
The script did present numerous challenges for the writer, however. “In a strange way, not much happens in the book because it really is about their relationship,” said Mathison. “There’s no dramatic drive to it. Their decision to try and get rid of the giants happens pretty easily and quickly, and there was an episodic quality to the chapters. It wasn’t as story-driven, so we needed to create a narrative."
Just as the filmmakers anticipated, Mathison took a personal approach to the material, maintaining the relationship between the scrappy orphan and the word-jumbly giant as they took on their big adventure. “My imagination was invested in the two of them,” she said. “Everything needed to be centred on their relationship.”
“Melissa took Dahl’s book and did the most extraordinary but faithful translation, with a magic only Melissa possesses,” says Spielberg.
Once the script was completed, Mathison would remain involved with the film throughout principal photography. Spielberg occasionally makes changes to a script while filming and wants the writer there to help bring the characters alive.
“Melissa was there on the E.T. set every day and every day on The BFG,” says Spielberg. “So I’ve been very fortunate to bookend our relationship with two stories that came from her heart.”
The BFG marks the final screenwriting credit for Mathison who tragically passed away in November of last year. Spielberg paid tribute to his collaborator: “Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.”
We were fortunate enough to see a sneak preview of The BFG courtesy of our friends at Entertainment One UK. Spielberg has found a star for the future in Ruby Barnhill as Sophie and with his seductive and charming performance as the Big Friendly Giant Mark Rylance is exceptional. A visual treat from the master of cinema, The BFG is a fitting swansong for Melissa Mathison and reaffirms that you should never stop believing in the power of your dreams.
The BFG opens at Showcase Cinemas in both 2D and 3D July 22.