Roald Dahl on screen – from James and the Giant Peach to Tales of the Unexpected

We celebrate Roald Dahl day with a look at some of the author's best film and television adaptations - plus the man himself with advice on how to spot a witch...

Matilda film (Mara Wilson), Getty

Today, September 13 2012, is the 96th anniversary of the birth of children’s author Roald Dahl, the man who brought us such weird and wonderful creations as Willy Wonka, the Grand High Witch and – celebrating his own 30th birthday this year – the BFG.


Whatever your age, now would be a good time to dip back into Dahl’s books, but first here’s a reminder of some of the best film and TV treatments of his work – along with an appearance by the man himself, explaining (in case you didn’t already know) exactly how to spot a witch…


James and the Giant Peach

As with the book, one of the nice things about this rather charming stop-go-animated Disney film version is the multicultural mix of the peach inhabitants. The ladybird and the earthworm are from the north of England, the grasshopper’s a monocled aristocrat, the centipede is from Brooklyn by the sounds of it, and the spider appears to be Franco-Russian. How they all ended up in an English peach together is beyond me…

The Witches

The film version starring Angelica Huston as the Grand High Witch is pretty good considering it’s so American – and you can watch the excellent scene in which she reveals her horrifying true face below. But the real gem is this – an ITV3 trailer in which Roald Dahl himself tells three children exactly how to spot a witch. You have to envy Sophie Dahl for having had this man as a grandfather.

“You may remove your shoes. You may remove your vigs.”



The BFG is about a young girl’s relationship with a Big Friendly Giant, and their attempts to stop the even bigger, decidedly non-friendly, giants Dahl created – the ones with such horribly evocative names as The Bloodbottler and The Fleshlumpeater…

And if that leaves you in need of a bit of light relief, here’s The Whizpopper song from the same animated movie by Cosgrove Hall.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Or in the case of the original and best Hollywood adaptation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, Dahl was unhappy with the film for placing too much emphasis on Wonka (at least he didn’t live to see the Johnny Depp version) but when Gene Wilder sings the wonderful Pure Imagination it’s easy to believe it was written about Dahl himself.



Another Roald Dahl book, another US film version, but a very enjoyable one. Here, the put-upon youngster learns to control her amazing magical powers. It seems like fun now but what about when she hits puberty? We’ve all seen Carrie…


Tales of the Unexpected


To those of a certain age, the eerie theme by Ron Grainer (who also composed the original Doctor Who tune) will be instantly recognisable. But it’s the freaky silhouetted dancing woman, writhing her way through the credits of the Anglia TV series (based on Dahl’s collection of short stories) who really sends a shiver down the spine…