Danny the Champion of the World (1989)

Danny the Champion of the World (1989)

Danny the Champion of the World was directed by Gavin Millar and based on Roald Dahl’s novel by the same name. Production groups listed at the end of the film include Thames Television, Wonderworks, British Screen, The Children’s Film and Television Foundation, and The Disney Channel, of course. This movie was a family affair: Jeremy Irons plays a widow named William Smith, Sam Irons (his real-life son) plays his son, Danny, and Sam’s grandfather, Cyril Cusack, plays the doctor.

Left to right: Jeremy Irons, Sam Irons, Cyril Cusack

I’ve never read Dahl’s book, but the man himself reportedly loved this film. Per the Irish Times, Dahl’s wife Liccy said, “Roald liked films to be faithful to his books. His favorite of all the films was Danny, the Champion of the World, probably because it was the most faithful.” Danny and his father live in a caravan, and a local nuisance known as “Hazell” (played by Robbie Coltrane, Hagrid!) wants to buy up their land. Hazell is also possessive over the pheasant population, and William Smith likes to poach Hazell’s pheasants. The creatures are truly the main focus of this film, with the father twisting his ankle in the pursuit of them. We learn that Danny was kept home from traditional school longer than most children, but that his father taught him other useful skills, like fixing cars. Danny is able to drive to Hazell’s land and help his dad out of the trenches during a poaching session.

As this story is set in the 1950s, we also get a scene where Danny’s teacher is reprimanded for use of corporal punishment. But most of the focus is on the pheasants. In the end, the law states that the birds belong to the owner of whichever property they are on. So, Danny helps his dad capture the whole lot of them, and once they’re officially his own property, the boy decides to save the pheasants.

Sadly, director Gavin Millar died of a brain tumor in April 2022. His Disney Channel Premiere Film fits in with the channel’s literary direction in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Jeremy Irons thought highly of Millar’s adaptation: “Danny is that rare film I think parents will enjoy as much as children,” he told The Lewiston Journal during filming. If you’re a fan of Roald Dahl, you might enjoy seeing this father-son story on screen (you’ll have to poke around for it, though).

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