Review: Saving Mr Banks shows us another side to a family classic

 

The young Helen Goff adores her mercurial father

The young Helen Goff adores her mercurial father (via Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings)

For many of us, Mary Poppins is Julie Andrews, arm-in-arm with Dick Van Dyke or singing about spoonfuls of sugar. Strange to think that this incarnation of the magical nanny nearly didn’t happen at all. Saving Mr Banks takes a look at the making of the iconic 1964 musical and its creator, Australian-born author, PL Travers.

Emma Thompson brings her usual excellence to the role of Travers, a woman who personifies stiff-upper-lip Britishness. Disney have been trying to make a film of her novel for two decades, but she has blocked them at every turn. But the royalties have dried up and Travers needs the money. So she flies to California to meet with the Sherman brothers (the men behind the music), scriptwriter Don DaGradi, and Walt Disney himself.

Tom Hanks brings depth to the role of Disney, one which could have slipped into caricature in the hands of a lesser actor. Walt Disney was a complex man, and Hanks ably illustrates the hints of the ruthless businessman to the oft-genial, all-American, first-names-only avuncular figure. Mary Poppins was released just two years before Disney succumbed to lung cancer, and we see here how he took care to make sure his impressionable young fans never saw him smoke.

Disney is Travers’ polar opposite. She is uptight and prides herself on formality, correcting her driver on his manners at every turn. But for all her British propriety, the California sun (‘it smells of chlorine and sweat’) is awakening something in her.

For Travers grew up as Helen Lyndon Goff in the Australian outback. The story of young ‘Ginty’ Goff (Anna Rose Buckley) and the father she worships is interspliced throughout Saving Mr Banks, and it is dark indeed. Travers Goff (a great performance from Colin Farrell) is imaginative and doting, but he struggles with his job as a bank manager and alcoholism. Memories which PL Travers has suppressed are coming back to haunt her, and she can’t bear the thought of her family- Mary Poppins and the Bankses- being altered by Disney.

There’s plenty of comedy throughout the film, especially when it comes to the early meetings between the studio and Travers. She torments the Sherman brothers and DaGradi with obsessive complaints about their vision of the film. She doesn’t want music or animation, or made-up words; at one point she decides she doesn’t want the colour red anywhere to be seen.

However, as Ginty’s story gets progressively darker, PL Travers realises that these vulgar Americans aren’t all bad in the present. A touching connection begins with Ralph, her driver (Paul Giamatti) and it seems that she is mellowing. Until Bob Sherman lets it slip about the penguins…

PL Travers was considerably more bohemian than she is portrayed here. She became a single mother by adoption, was hugely interested in mysticism, made decisions based on her star-sign, and had relationships with men and women. However, the culture clash in Saving Mr Banks was too good to resist, and seeing Travers cry as Mr Banks is, indeed, saved, will bring a tear to the coldest eye.

For anyone who grew up watching Bert and Mary dance their way across the rooftops of London, Saving Mr Banks is a must-see. Beautifully shot, acted and written, it brings a whole new perspective to the family classic.

 

For many of us, Mary Poppins is Julie Andrews, arm-in-arm with Dick Van Dyke or singing about spoonfuls of sugar. Strange to think that this incarnation of the magical nanny nearly didn’t happen at all. Saving Mr Banks takes a look at the making of the iconic 1964 musical and its creator, Australian-born author, PL Travers.

Emma Thompson brings her usual excellence to the role of Travers, a woman who personifies stiff-upper-lip Britishness. Disney have been trying to make a film of her novel for two decades, but she has blocked them at every turn. But the royalties have dried up and Travers needs the money. So she flies to California to meet with the Sherman brothers (the men behind the music), scriptwriter Don DaGradi, and Walt Disney himself.

Tom Hanks brings depth to the role of Disney, one which could have slipped into caricature in the hands of a…

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