The Netflix/Roald Dahl deal is rich with potential spin-offs

By Eva Wiseman
‘Criticised for racism, misogyny, classism and more’: Roald Dahl.
‘Criticised for racism, misogyny, classism and more’: Roald Dahl. Photograph: Ronald Dumont/Getty Images

Netflix has bought the Roald Dahl Story Company, with plans to create a Disney-style “universe” of films and shows based on his stories. Dark and sticky stories about chocolate, rudeness and revenge, all written in the small garden hut that contained a chair, a ball of sweet wrappers, and a jar holding pieces of his own spine. The books are similarly curated.

They are unsentimental and arch, rife with bad parents, repulsive adults and disgusting children – in 2000 Dahl was voted Britain’s favourite author. This, of course, despite the rottenness which sits so uncomfortably alongside his subversive fairytales. There’s been criticism for racism, misogyny, classism, and more. In the stories, characters are punished for such various crimes as: evil, watching TV, and chewing gum while female. In 1983 Dahl said: “There’s a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity… I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.” And then, to clarify: “I’ve become antisemitic.” Which was a shame. But the books are good enough, on certain days, that the personal moralities of their author may be put aside. Indeed Wonka (a prequel starring Timothée Chalamet) went into production this week. Which gives us room to spread out across the boardroom, and, why not, pitch a spin-off or two. We’ll call them the Great Glass Elevator Pitches:

• OK, the year is 2071 and we open on the smouldering site where a factory once stood. Red tape flutters: there were a lot of deaths here. Too many, some say, for a children’s chocolate factory tour. Then, from the dust, the crackle of static. It’s an antique monitor and from deep within, Mike Teavee is waking up. Once a boy banished for loving screens too much, now his time has come. He may be trapped within a glassy cage, but from there he has the power to control the media from the inside. TikTok is his playground. The BBC his bathroom. Scarred, angry and very very small, soon he will take over the world. First though, there are scores to settle.

• Once, they were known as the Twits, now Julian and Gabby are famous for their delicious pasta recipes and achievable interior design hacks. Shaved, scrubbed, in sensible shackets and manicured nails, they appear the image of respectability. Unfortunately, from under their hats they are being controlled by rats.

• Fantastic Mr Foxtons – think post-Brexit Grand Designs shot with a glam-cam. We follow a group of charismatic developers who won’t let the problem (for eg) of a little housing estate stand in their way.

• A Sapphic erotic thriller starring Miss Honey. That’s it, that’s the pitch.

• Nobody thought the everlasting gobstopper would really last for ever, but nobody thought it would put a curse on every child that sucked it either, yet here we are, in a glossy horror franchise that slips from 80s suburbia to dystopian desertscape. Ben Affleck to star.

• A hardhitting true-crime documentary (could go to series, check Louis Theroux’s availability) on the murky past of the man known as the “Big Friendly Giant”.

• Bedroom, night. Bruno is not OK. Sure, his mouseliness wore off over the months following those awful events at the hotel, but 10 years later his fear and hatred of women has never been stronger. Their falseness, their lies, their many silent rejections. But soon he will finish what he started. It was exciting, that afternoon long ago, dripping the potion into their soup and as he caresses the vial of novichok, he shivers with excitement. Only one grandma can stop him. And she’s a ghost. (Miriam Margolyes).

• Danny Dyer, Hardest Champion Poacher in the World.

• A penthouse office, morning, and a neon sign stretches across the back wall: “I WANT IT NOW”. Enter Verruca, smart, heeled, in a cashmere sweater embroidered with #GIRLBOSS. Having leveraged her position as Wonka’s most articulate victim into a career as a political pundit, she made her first billion by floating her women-only co-working company, Safe Space, on the stock market. But now, a stumbling block. An anonymous letter writer threatens to expose her “use of slaves”. Those women, merrily cleaning the charging stations, they look familiar. Did Verruca really liberate the Oompa Loompas, help repatriate them to Loompaland, or did she kidnap them? Could this be the downfall of her dynasty? She reapplies her lipstick, and snaps open her phone. “Daddy, it’s me. I want an assassin. Now.”

• Ms Trunchbull’s War on Woke. Six-part series following Trunchbull as she visits universities, picket-lines and museums to give Britain’s snowflakes a piece of good common sense. Episode one, on cancel culture, is a hardhitting look at the state of UK schooling, where a teacher can’t even give kids a very big cake any more.

OK thanks. Call me x.

Eva Wiseman will be in conversation with Hannah Jane Parkinson for a Guardian Live online event on 14 October. Book tickets at theguardian.com/guardianlive

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman


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