Following Wes Anderson’s brilliant adaptation of Roald Dahl’s short story, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, three more Dahl stories get the Anderson treatment — The Swan, from the same collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar was from; The Rat Catcher, from Dahl’s short story collection, Someone Like You; and Poison, which first appeared in the American magazine Collier’s.
The Swan, The Rat Catcher, Poison (English)
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Rupert Friend, Ralph Fiennes, Asa Jennings, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley, Dev Patel, Richard Ayoade
Runtime: 17 minutes
Storyline: A rat catcher tells his secrets, a boy outwits his bullies and a doctor tries to get the better of a sleeping krait
The elegance of these short films lies in how Anderson uses a narrator to preserve Dahl’s voice and cinematography (Robert Yeoman, Roman Coppola) to echo the otherworldliness of Quentin Blake’s illustrations (Blake illustrated 18 of Dahl’s books).
While the four short films can be watched in any order, I watched them in the order they dropped. The Swan, which follows The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, tells of two obnoxious boys, the school bullies, who torment Peter Watson (Asa Jennings), a gentle, intelligent boy. The story is told by a Narrator (Rupert Friend), with stagehands changing the scenery to include the weeping willow and the regal, doomed swan and Dahl (Ralph Fiennes) breaking the fourth wall to reveal the ending.
The Rat Catcher is a dark fairytale, just like The Pied Piper of Hamelin from The Brothers Grimm. In an English village, a reporter (Richard Ayoade) and a mechanic (Friend), listen to the Rat Man (Fiennes) hold forth on the cleverness of rats and how one has to be smarter than a rodent to be able to catch them. Looking much like a rat with long, discoloured nails and big, yellow teeth, the Rat Man talks of how to trap sewer rats and the non-sewer ones, which are the ones the mechanic has asked the Rat Man to get rid of. Words, the reporter says, come out of the Rat Man “as if he were gargling with melted butter.”
Poison is set in India under British rule. Woods (Dev Patel) returns home to find his friend, Harry (Benedict Cumberbatch), petrified in bed. He is lying very still as there is a venomous snake, a krait, curled up asleep on his stomach. Woods calls Dr. Ganderbai (Ben Kingsley) and the two try various means to get rid of the snake including injecting Harry with anti-venom and anaesthetising the krait with chloroform.
Short stories and films can be a springboard to long-form and can equally be a way of distilling brilliance. Dahl’s short stories and Anderson’s adaptations definitely fall in the latter category as each 17-minute film reveals in such a spectacular fashion.
‘The Swan’, ‘The Rat Catcher’, ‘Poison’ are currently streaming on Netflix