'Bake Off' star Briony Williams blasts 'The Witches' over disability portrayal

Julia Hunt
·Contributor
·4-min read
Manon Lagrève (left), Kim-Joy Hewlett, and Briony Williams with the award for Best Food Programme at the TRIC Awards 2019 50th Birthday Celebration held at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London. (Photo by Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images)
Bake Off's Manon Lagrève, Kim-Joy Hewlett, and Briony Williams (Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images)

Former Bake Off contestant Briony Williams has said the depiction of the characters’ hands in new film The Witches brought tears to her eyes.

The adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book stars Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch. The character has three elongated fingers on each hand and campaigners have accused the film of linking disability or physical impairments to evil characters.

Read more: Hathaway will give kids nightmares with Witches transformation

Comedian Alex Brooker, who has hand and arm impairments, has said the images "jarred quite a lot" and British Para swimmer Amy Marren said she was “disappointed and angry”, as the depiction of the witches’ hands could be harmful to people – especially children – with limb impairments.

Williams, who was born without any fingers on her left hand, has now added her voice to the backlash in an emotional message on Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

This is really hard post for me to write. I’ve kept quiet about the controversy surrounding the depiction of the witches’ hands in the new film version of the Roald Dahl classic but I can’t anymore because it’s really got to me. I want to point out a few things first and that is in the original book, the witches were not described as missing fingers, they had claws instead of nails which they used gloves to cover. In the 1990 version of the film, they didn’t give the witches missing fingers (as you can see in the pics). When I look at the pictures of @annehathaway with her witch hands, it brings tears to my eyes because I see MY hand in the photos. I see my genetic disorder that caused me to be born without any fingers on my left hand. I see something to be afraid of, something meant to make you feel sick and revolted. This isn’t about being overly sensitive, a “snowflake” or being too politically correct. This is about showcasing limb difference as ugly, scary, gross and evil. They didn’t need to do this, look at the book, the original film. How did they think this was acceptable? I’m very proud of my hand, it’s taken me decades to get there but I am. When I was on Bake Off, I had people tweet me saying I look like the guy on Freddy Got Fingered. I feel desperately sad for those people out there, especially children, with a limb difference who are ashamed of it or embarrassed because this will knock them harder than you know. I’m so pleased that people and charities are speaking up because it’s not ok. #notawitch @reachcharity1 @alex_brooker @ella.dickinson @lucky_fin_project

A post shared by Briony May Williams (@brionymaybakes) on

“This is really hard post for me to write,” she told her followers on the site.

“I’ve kept quiet about the controversy surrounding the depiction of the witches’ hands in the new film version of the Roald Dahl classic but I can’t anymore because it’s really got to me.

“I want to point out a few things first and that is in the original book, the witches were not described as missing fingers, they had claws instead of nails which they used gloves to cover. In the 1990 version of the film, they didn’t give the witches missing fingers (as you can see in the pics).

“When I look at the pictures of @annehathaway with her witch hands, it brings tears to my eyes because I see MY hand in the photos.

“I see my genetic disorder that caused me to be born without any fingers on my left hand.

“I see something to be afraid of, something meant to make you feel sick and revolted.”

Williams – who made it to the Bake Off semi-final in 2018 - went on: “This isn’t about being overly sensitive, a ‘snowflake’ or being too politically correct. This is about showcasing limb difference as ugly, scary, gross and evil.

“They didn’t need to do this, look at the book, the original film. How did they think this was acceptable?

“I’m very proud of my hand, it’s taken me decades to get there but I am. When I was on Bake Off, I had people tweet me saying I look like the guy on Freddy Got Fingered. I feel desperately sad for those people out there, especially children, with a limb difference who are ashamed of it or embarrassed because this will knock them harder than you know.

“I’m so pleased that people and charities are speaking up because it’s not ok.”

Warner Bros has apologised for the depiction of the witches and Hathaway has also said sorry, assuring fans: “Now that I know better I promise I’ll do better.”

She wrote on Instagram: “As someone who really believes in inclusivity and really, really detests cruelty, I owe you all an apology for the pain caused. I am sorry.

“I did not connect limb difference with the GHW when the look of the character was brought to me; if I had, I assure you this never would have happened.”

Watch: Anne Hathaway apologises to limb difference community

Read more: Bake Off's Briony Williams explains why she wants to 'own' her disability label

She added: “I particularly want to say I’m sorry to kids with limb differences: now that I know better I promise I’ll do better. And I owe a special apology to everyone who loves you as fiercely as I love my own kids: I’m sorry I let your family down.”

Dahl’s 1983 book portrayed the witches as having five fingers, as did the 1990 big screen adaptation starring Anjelica Huston.

Additional reporting by PA.