Danny De Vito’s film of ‘Matilda’ has a lot going for it, in fact, I think it’s probably my favourite Roald Dahl adaptation. My favourite sequence is when the horrible Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of the awful school Matilda goes to, uses an assembly to punish portly pupil Bruce Bogtrotter for that most heinous of crimes, pinching a piece of cake. Bruce won’t admit to the misdemeanour, saying ‘it’s hard to remember a specific cake’, but it makes no difference – Miss Trunchbull offers him with a thick chunk of chocolate smothered confectionary and forces him to eat it. Which he does, with suspicion at first but, as he goes on, with enormous pleasure.
Then – Trunchbull’s cruel masterstroke: Bruce is presented with an enormous chocolate cake, the size of an occasional table and the height of a medium sized dog. The assembled children gasp, Bruce gulps, Miss Trunchbull leers in triumph. Forced to eat, Bruce manfully takes a handful, then another, a montage showing his slow, torturous progress.
With almost three quarters gone, Bruce is out on his feet– his eyes rolling back in his head, seemingly about to vomit. Miss Trunchbull is ecstatic. Suddenly, Matilda jumps up and shouts ‘You can do it, Brucie!’, and the cry is repeated around the hall and the shocked silence turns to an uproar of cheering and support. The effect is amazing. Bruce, filled with renewed vigour, jumps to his feet grabs a fistful of cake and holds it in the air in triumph before stuffing it into his face. Within seconds, to rapturous applause, he has finished the cake and, showboating now, is licking the plate.
It’s the ‘I’m Spartacus’ moment of kids films, the triumph of the underdog against a fascist regime, the outsider who becomes a hero, the victory over impossible odds. Miss Trunchbull is so angry she can only do what all despots do – she resorts to violence, smashing the cake plate over his head. As he falls, however, Bruce has time to unleash a mighty burp, a belch that fills the assembly hall and, temporarily, smashes the system. Miss Trunchbull’s decline starts here.