Not really unrelatedly, in Matilda the movie, I really think Miss Honey/Matilda reads more as, well, Miss Honey slash Matilda than as a mother-daughter thing. Here's why:
Because I'm a big perv. But really, honestly, here's why:
1) The scene where Miss Honey finds out Matilda's brilliant. She asks Matilda what she likes to read, and Matilda says she's reading Dickens. "I could read Dickens all day."
Miss Honey says, in a hush, "So could I."
That scene to me feels romantic. It feels like two people discovering a shared interest, and for both of them, the rest of the world evaporates and it's just that, a spark of friendship. They're kindred spirits, the race that knows Joseph. There's nothing teacher-studently in that moment; they're connecting to each other on the same level - and because of her intelligence, Matilda can do that.
2) Miss Honey telling Matilda the story of her life feels very un-teacherly to me. It also feels unmaternal, but that might just be reflective of my own relationship with my own mother. But still - it's a big confidence, and Miss Honey is treating Matilda like an adult. Partially she sees herself reflected in Matilda ("it's wonderful that you feel so powerful; many people don't"), but she's also just confiding in someone, near as we know for the first time, about her own life.
3) Matilda doesn't treat Miss Honey as an authority figure. Now, partially, there are only four adults in the movie (slashy
But at the same time, she doesn't exactly respect Miss Honey. While it's Miss Honey who asks Matilda to tea, it's Matilda who initiates the first trip to Trunchbull's house, and it's Matilda who speeds ahead while Miss Honey follows. Matilda is playfully disobedient and Miss Honey seems to revel in it, yes, but she Matilda is not following directives.
There's nothing in their relationship that smacks of authority. Miss Honey has nothing to teach Matilda, and she makes no rules for her. Theirs is an economy of promises - "Don't go in the Trunchbull's house again." "I won't, I promise."
And later, "Everything will be okay, I promise."
"You promised you wouldn't go back in her house!"
"I didn't! I did it with my mind!"
These promises are just that - promises. They're based in trust, not obedience, and they are again decidedly unpaternal.
Even at movie's end, there's no sign of Miss Honey disciplining Matilda in any way. Matilda is by no means a perfect child, and because she's so clever she gets away with a lot of imperfection, but Miss Honey does nothing to temper that.
4) There are moments when Miss Honey does try to be motherly/teacherly/wisdom-dispense-y -- for instance, when Matilda thinks she can move things with her mind but can't demonstrate it, and Miss Honey tries to comfort her, "Sometimes we can do a thing until we want to show someone. Sometimes a thing is lost until we ask someone to help us look for it."
But Matilda dismisses the advice: "This isn't like that."
Whatever she wants from Miss Honey, it's not wisdom.
5) But Matilda can and does offer a great deal to Miss Honey. She's cast as knight-in-armor, and she gifts Miss Honey with Lyssie-doll and with the chocolates, and moreover she saves them both from their hideous families and gets rid of the Trunchbull forever. It's in the nature of children's stories for children to triumph without the aid of adults. Parents in children's books are evil or incompetent or both; Miss Honey is not, so she's not a parent. The role of good parent hardly exists in literature, and there's nothing in what Miss Honey does to make her feel like a parent at all.
She tries to empower Matilda (again, "it's wonderful you feel so powerful,") but it's Matilda who actually empowers - it's she who prompts Miss Honey to confront the Trunchbull again and again until finally Matilda gets rid of her forever. It parallels Matilda's relationship with Lavender - (In the climax, Lavender ends up hanging from a bar; Matilda tells her to let go and Lav floats gently down and says, "I didn't know I could do that!") Matilda makes people feel strong and powerful.
6) I have overstated my point; there is one scene where Miss Honey is genuinely heroic - the Trunchbull says it's the "most interesting thing you've ever done." She rescues Matilda from the Chokey. But even there, Miss Honey and Matilda are both disempowered by the Trunchbull. The act is not of maternal forgiveness for wrongdoing, but a rescue by a sibling equally susceptible to a parent's wrath.
Similarly when Miss Honey leaves the book for Matilda without the Wormwoods seeing - they conspire against the evil adults/authority figures, but Miss Honey herself is not an authority figure - she doesn't have the power to rescue Matilda from her parents by overt means.
7) It occurs to me that Matilda does "rescue" her father from the slashy speedboat salesmen when she destroys their tape; when viewed in this light, perhaps Miss Honey is just another hapless adult in Matilda's life who needs her control, manipulation, and power in order to survive.
But looking at everything in light of the love-at-first-sight Dickens moment, I'm more inclined to view Matilda as a love story, in which they triumph over terrible odds in order to be together and to live happily ever after. The montage at the end - they play with hula hoops, they sew, they roll around on the lawn, they read together - to me reinforces the image of them as peers. Matilda is smarter (though the whole issue of Matilda's intelligence is utterly problematic and the subject of another post altogether, comparing bookverse and movieverse and showing why Matilda is Ravenclaw in the book and Gryffindor in the movie) and Miss Honey is older, but ultimately they play together and read together and learn together and build a life together that, based on the ending montage, doesn't need Hortensia or Bruce or Lavender to be complete. I'm not saying that they read as sexual to me, because they don't, but the relationship does read as more romantic than maternal.