The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar - Photo Netflix
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – Photo Netflix

In the past few weeks, Netflix has quietly launched Wes Anderson’s “The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar” and three additional Roald Dahl short stories. 

Each is a fanciful fable drawn from the extensive ‘idea’ files that eccentric, cardigan-clad, curmudgeonly storyteller Dahl (Ralph Fiennes) kept in Gipsy House, his isolated ‘writing hut’ adjacent to his home in Buckinghamshire, England – where he wrote “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda.”

Set in the 1930s, “The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar” introduces a self-absorbed, scheming gambler (Benedict Cumberbatch) who learns a method of meditation that gives him X-ray vision to see through playing cards, launching him on a casino-hopping career that causes him to question his very existence. It’s 40 minutes long.

Next there’s “The Swan” recalling a macabre bullying incident that becomes lethal; then “The Rat Catcher” about a bizarrely feral exterminator; and finally “Poison,” set in India, where an inscrutable British officer believes that a highly poisonous krait snake is sleeping on his stomach – each running 17 minutes.

This whimsical cinematic anthology is the creation of Wes Anderson, who became intrigued by the emotional truths in Roald Dahl’s work after adapting his novel into the Oscar-nominated, stop-motion animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009).

Stumped on how to translate Dahl’s jottings to the screen, Anderson decided to have the four principal actors (Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley, Dev Patel, Richard Ayoade), playing various characters, narrate the author’s adroit descriptions and their actions directly into the camera at a rapid pace with deadpan directness. 

Anderson’s inventive, precisely calibrated contrivance works, along with analog and antiquarian visual touches supplied by fastidious production designer Adam Stockhausen, mischievous cinematographer Robert Yeoman and precise composer Alexander Desplat.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar” and other tales score an enchanting, enigmatic 8, streaming – one after another – on Netflix.

The Deceived - Photo Starz
The Deceived – Photo Starz

Duplicity, dishonesty and betrayal are essential ingredients in the four-part British series appropriately called “The Deceived.”

The psychological thriller begins in Cambridge as Ophelia Marsh (Emily Reid), a young English major, develops a crush on flirtatious Michael Callahan (Emmett J. Scanlan), a University lecturer who is married to successful novelist Roisin Mulvery (Catherine Walker).

In the throes of their torrid affair, Michael suddenly disappears, so Ophelia tracks him to his tiny hometown of Knockdara in Northern Ireland, where she discovers a tragedy has occurred. Apparently, Roisin was killed in a fire that destroyed part of their huge ancestral home.

Undeterred, Ophelia appears at Roisin’s gravesite – after which she informs Michael that she’s pregnant. Not surprisingly, Ophelia’s presence ignites gossip among the intertwined locals, especially Roisin’s mother Mary (Eleanor Methven).

Adding fuel to the fire, manipulative Michael then insists that Ophelia take up residence in the partially burnt-down home he shared with Roisin, lamely explaining that she’s somehow involved in the publishing business.

That immediately rouses suspicion in Michael’s friend Sean (Paul Mescal), who will be repairing the damage and rebuilding the structure.

Soon, Ophelia becomes completely unnerved by strange sounds and ghostly apparitions; in addition, her fears are amplified by warnings from Orla (Louisa Harland), a psychic, and rambling recollections related by Michael’s father (Ian McElhinney).

Scripted by Lisa McGee and her husband Tobias Beer, the series was filmed on location in Cambridge and Northern Ireland. The couple confessed that they loved watching old Alfred Hitchcock films, particularly Hitchcock’s interpretation of Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca,’ which was obviously a big influence on this story.

“The house is like a character in itself – it’s the strangest, kookiest place,” relates Emily Reid. “There was definitely, for me, some strange energy in that place – which was great for my character. It meant you didn’t really have to do anything imaginatively as an actor; it was all done for you.”

On the Granger Gauge, “The Deceived” is a secretive 6, streaming on Starz, accessible on Hulu and Netflix.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.