The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar


American director Wes Anderson has already shown his love for British writer Roald Dahl, when he animated an adapted version of his Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009.

Here then is further evidence, albeit in a truncated form, with the first of four shorts he’s producing for streaming giants Netflix.

boom reviews The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
This gentleman is about to lose everything he owns on a turn of a card. Mug.

Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a wealthy individual, but despite his fortune is easily bored. He has a vice for gambling, namely card games in casinos, where he isn’t particularly fussed if he wins or not.

At one point he finds himself in a library, and is taken by a very thin book, sticking out amongst a shelf of serious looking titles. It is a tale written by Dr. Chatterjee (Dev Patel), who describes a most extraordinary event that happened to him, when a man came to his hospital with a very impressive power. It was this power that made Henry read from beginning to end, as it was one that he could surely benefit from if he possessed it.

boom reviews The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
if you didn't already realise, this is a private chat...

Although this is yet another outing for the director into the world of Dahl, it’s still very much a Wes Anderson film, with his usual techniques and tropes, from the aspect ratio it’s shot in – the square-ish 1.33 : 1 – to its colour palette, use of miniatures and theatre inspired set designs.

It also has an acting troupe, with many of its stars doubling up on roles throughout, with the only difference being that it has a distinctively British flavour this time around, with all the main players, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Richard Ayoade, as well as Cumberbatch and Patel, and yet another cameo from Jarvis Cocker, all from our shores.

There’s also his usual layered approach to storytelling, with characters telling a story, within a story, within a story, which we’ve seen before, most recently in Asteroid City with a number of narrators telling them.

One noticeable difference is perhaps the increased pace of the dialogue, with much of it delivered with the urgency and speed of a machine gun spitting out bullets. It almost feels as if there is a deliberate rush on to make sure the film remains relative short, at just under 40 minutes in length. There’s a sense of irony however, in that if they did indeed slow the pace down, the film could have quite easily have been a full-length feature.

It is everything you expect from an Anderson film; it’s wonderfully creative and charming, vibrant and distinctive storytelling. And it appears that Dahl’s prose are the perfect fit for Anderson’s cinematic stylings, delivering a delicious curiosity at the heart of it.

Even though it’s a brief adventure, it will no doubt pleas both fans of Anderson’s and Dahl’s alike, especially with the promise of a further three yet to come.

we give this four out of five