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Short Movie Review – The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

Oh my word, this brings back memories! Back in my first round of college days I was an avid reader of Roald Dahl’s short story collections. I can still remember reading Someone Like You, Kiss Kiss, and Switch Bitch whilst lying on the bed in my room. I can also remember the downside of a Roald Dahl short story…they are too damn good! You read a story and get drawn into whichever world it is that Mr Dahl has created for it. Then, usually with the final paragraph, often the final sentence, there is a massive, explosive twist. Those twists are so striking that they are unforgettable. Not “get to the last page and it dawns on you that you know how it’ll finish”. More like “part way through the opening paragraph and it dawns on you that you know how it’ll finish”. 

It has been over forty five years since I last read them but I still, to this day, can tell you the twist at the end of every story if you just show me the first page. And that was why I was so pleased when The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More was released just in time for me to read during my final year. I’ve also never hidden the fact that I am a fan of the works of Wes Anderson. I’ve been in the cinema for the first screening of all his films since The Grand Budapest Hotel. I’ve bought copies of  all his feature length films since Bottle Rocket.  So you can imagine my delight when I found out that this year would see two Wes Anderson films being released. I was even more delighted when I found out that one of the two new films was going to be based on The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. 

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An Extraordinary Thing Happened

Even better, for me, was that The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar was to be a Netflix production. This meant that I already had access to it on release and that I could see it without the need to change out of my pyjamas. So, there I was on Wednesday morning…comfy armchair, nice big mug of coffee, a slice of toast, and the remote control in my hand. For some reason the advance publicity seemed to have been less than all encompassing. I had seen the trailer the day before. For the first time! So, on Tuesday I see the trailer for the first time. In the awe and excitement of the event I completely revised the Newsletter lead that I was planning. Within seconds, you knew you were watching a Wes Anderson film. By that I mean an actual Wes Anderson film and not one of those AI ones that claim to be an accurate representation of what a Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings film would be like if he made them. What’s the difference? Good question! 

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. I’ve never claimed to have any kind of academic background in cinematic theory and appreciation. I’m sure that, one day, the AI people will, doubtless, improve their techniques and make a truly undetectable imitation but, until then I’ll stick with the real thing. So, what is The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar about? It is a typical Roald Dahl fantasy story. This time, however, it is a story for adults rather than children. The eponymous Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a rich, bored chap who is always looking for the next thrill. He happens across a notebook containing “A Report On Imdad Khan” by Dr ZZ Chatterjee. Imdad Khan (Ben Kingsley) turned up to talk to doctors Chatterjee (Dev Patel) and Marshall (Richard Ayoade). 

I Am A Man Who Can See Without Using His Eyes

Oh, the whole story was introduced by Roald Dahl himself…in the person of Ralph Fiennes. Imdad Khan tells the story of how he was taught by a yogi see without using his eyes. Henry Sugar is fascinated by this and decides to learn the technique and cheat at cards. He’s already rich so winning more money gets boring. Everything I’ve said so far can be picked up from watching the trailer. The conclusion would, normally, be the big surprise but, as I said earlier, I read the book back in the late seventies and Wes Anderson has stuck to the original ending so, if you can’t wait, you can read it! The actual production is beautiful. Typical Wes Anderson. The script is taken from the original short story. 

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There are a few bits that have been cut out to speed up the pacing. Mainly tweeks to make the story flow. There were two changes that I noticed; one to bring things up to date and another with no reason that I can see. The “up to date’ thing was that the doctor who wrote the original notebook was Dr John F Cartwright in the book. But as the story was set towards the end of the Raj it was not unusual to have a British doctor in charge. Changing him to Dr Chatterjee just gave the character back to India.The change I don’t get is the name of the “man who can see without his eyes” is changed from Imhrat Khan to Imdad Khan. Fortunately, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is only thirty eight minutes long as it would be almost impossible to find a Peetime for. The dialogue is delivered at scattergun speed. I really had to take my hat off to the cast. They had to deliver great screeds of text at rapid-fire rate. Thank goodness Mr Anderson had cast some of the best actors working today. 

Movie Grade: A+

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