Matilda (or Maud) was the daughter of Henry I, and after the death of his son William Atheling in the White Ship in 1120 she was the rightful heir-presumptive to the throne. However on Henry's death in 1135 his nephew Stephen was persuaded to seize the throne. This led to civil war.

Matilda's forces took London in 1141 and she was invested as Lady of the English. However, she was unpopular and had to leave later that year, and Stephen resumed the throne.

She was early on married to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V (d. 1125), so was known as the Empress. Later she married Geoffrey Plantagenet (Count Geoffrey V of Anjou, d. 1151), thus initiating that dynasty in England, because the settlement in the civil war was that their son should succeed (as Henry II, sometimes surnamed Fitz-Empress) after the death of Stephen, which took place in 1154.

Her mother was Matilda or Eadgyth, daughter of King Malcolm III "Canmore" of Scotland and of St Margaret, the sister of Edgar Atheling (nominally King Edgar II after Hastings in 1066), so Matilda was the first of the Norman line to be an heir of the Saxon monarchy.

She died in 1167.

Roald Dahl's children's novel Matilda was filmed in 1996, directed by Danny DeVito. The result is a wonderful, subversive film that presents his colourful characters to great comic effect whilst preserving the darkness of Dahl's writing.

The story of Matilda cleverly mixes a positive message about education and justice with a child-friendly tale of rebellion. "I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm big; you're little. And there's nothing you can do about it," her father tells the little girl Matilda. Most of the adults Matilda encounters are unpleasant, evil or weak. Her father, played by DeVito, is a disreputable used-car salesman, being pursued by the FBI. Her mother, played by Rhea Perlman (Carla in Cheers) is stupid and vain, leaving Matilda at home while she goes to the bingo, and forgetting to even send her to school.

But this free time is the making of Matilda. The child has astounding innate intelligence and a desperate yearning for knowledge, and aged four sets off to the public library to read. Soon she is pulling cartloads of books home with her, and having exhausted the children's section aged six, she moves onto Charles Dickens and Moby-Dick.

Finally her parents agree to send her to school, aged six and a half. She is thrilled by the chance to learn things, but horrified when she meets the headmistress Miss Trunchbull (played by Pam Ferris, star of The Darling Buds of May). Trunchbull is a bully, an ex-Olympic athlete, who puts her skills at the shot putt and hammer to use in launching troublesome pupils through the air. "I cannot for the life of me understand why small children take so long to grow up. I think they do it deliberately, just to annoy me," the Trunchbull protests.

Matilda, meanwhile, is developing magical powers, with the ability to move objects with the force of her mind. This telekinesis allows her to defend herself against Trunchbull and help her nice class teacher Miss Honey overcome her evil principal. Miss Honey is the one decent adult in the film, a substitute mother for Matilda, and a friend and kindred spirit.

There is a happy ending, of course, with Matilda triumphant. But what makes the film stand out is the strength of the performances. Matilda herself does not come across as played by some horrid stage-school brat, but a likeable girl, and her struggles to get an education will bring sympathy from anyone who enjoyed reading as a child. On the other hand, her magical powers and the anarchic uprising that ends the film appeal to the rebellious side of children, giving a tale that satisfies both the angel and the devil in the viewer.

Although aimed at children, it is a film that can be enjoyed by all ages, to anyone who enjoys seeing authority upset and justice done. It is a rare achievement for a children's book to make it to the screen without being smothered in syrup, but DeVito balances the sugar and the acidity with skill.

Main cast

Matilda Wormwood
Mara Wilson
Narrator/Harry Wormwood
Danny DeVito
Zinnia Wormwood
Rhea Perlman
Miss Jennifer Honey
Embeth Davidtz
Agatha Trunchbull
Pam Ferris
Bob (F.B.I. Agent)
Paul Reubens
Bill (F.B.I. Agent)
Tracey Walter
Michael Wormwood
Brian Levinson
Miss Phelps
Jean Speegle Howard
Kiami Davael
Matilda (4 years)
Sara Magdalin

Cast details and quotes taken from

Name - after the truculent medieval queen - given to two models of British Army "infantry tank" (by contrast with faster but underarmoured "cruiser tanks") of the early years of World War II, more properly known as Infantry Tanks Mk I and Mk II. Both were slow - 20 to 25 kph flat out for the Mk II, a mere 10 kph for the Mk I - and not particularly heavily armed - the Mk I, intended basically as a mobile pillbox, carried only machine guns; the Mk II mounted a 2-pounder (40 mm) gun - but were heavily armoured, and virtually impervious to the 20 mm and 37 mm guns mounted on most German tanks of the era (and the standard issue Pak 37 anti-tank gun), and would have posed serious problems to the Germans had Rommel not hastily developed the doctrine of using his heavy 88 mm Flak guns in an anti-tank role at the battle of Arras (May 1940).

The majority of the obsolete Matilda Is were lost after the Dunkirk evacuation and the fall of France, but the Mk II stayed in production and front-line service for a couple of years, most notably in the Western Desert, before being replaced by the heavier-gunned Valentine and Churchill models; a number were supplied to the Russians in 1941 but being by then vastly inferior to the native T34 saw little use after the initial crisis on the Eastern Front other than for training; the Germans too used a small number of examples captured in France and Russia. Some later models were fitted with 3" howitzers for infantry support, and the Australian army, which continued using the Matilda in jungle fighting up until 1943, also developed a flamethrower version (the "Frog").

A preserved Matilda II can be seen in the Imperial War Museum, London.

Presumably inspired by the tank, the name of one of the house robots in UK Robot Wars, armed with ramming tusks and formerly a chainsaw, later replaced by a vertically mounted flywheel.

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