Anyone who has seen and loved Mary Poppins as much as I have knows one thing for certain: it's not about the kids. For all its riotous scenes of young Jane and Michael having tea parties on the ceiling and jumping through chalk pavement pictures, it's the uptight Mr Banks who is the real target of Poppins's attentions, as she seeks to break him out of his "bank-shaped cage" and reconnect him with what really matters – his family. No wonder the enduring Disney classic ends with Mr Banks himself leading everyone in a tear-jerking chorus of Let's Go Fly a Kite; after all, it was his story all along.
Saving Mr Banks
Production year: 2013
Countries: Rest of the world, USA
Cert (UK): PG
Runtime: 126 mins
Directors: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell, Emma Thompson, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Giamatti, Tom Hanks
This is the central thrust of Saving Mr Banks, a lovely, sentimental and quietly insightful account of the making of Mary Poppins that traces the roots of PL Travers's most famous creation to the author's personal paternal past. Flitting between her childhood in Australia and her later life in London, we see the young Helen Lyndon Goff being both enchanted and traumatised by her banker father Travers (Colin Farrell), an alcoholic dreamer with an ebulliently infantile streak whose first name she significantly adopts as a nom de plume. Positing Rachel Griffiths's sternly haired, pointy-toed Aunt Ellie as a potential role model for Poppins herself, the film paints its inspirational back story with broad pop-psychology strokes, drifting between credible biography (Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith's screenplay clearly draws upon Valerie Lawson's book Mary Poppins, She Wrote) and fanciful invention with the dexterity of revellers on a Jolly 'Oliday cheerfully dancing with animated penguins.
The meat of this tale takes place in California, where Tom Hanks's tough but avuncular Walt Disney is attempting to convince Emma Thompson's brilliantly snippy "Mrs Travers" ("It is so discomforting to hear a perfect stranger use my first name") to sign over the rights to her most treasured creation. Having promised his children that he would bring "our beloved Mary" to the screen, Walt finds himself being snubbed, scolded and generally sniped at by the author who repeatedly says that "Mary Poppins – never just 'Mary' – is not for sale!".
Yet for all her objections to his "silly cartoons", Travers needs Walt's "cold heartless money" (as Bert would say), and thus the two are locked together amid the fairy castles of Disneyland to resolve their differences, with the help of the Sherman brothers, whose gorgeous songs get an equally tough time from the tight-lipped tyrant.
Cue a succession of hilariously exasperating "creative" meetings in which Travers airily dismisses some of the most sublimely inspired sequences of musical-fantasy cinema with the air of a stern school ma'am striking a red pen through the homework of an irksome pupil. (A real-life audio recording of one of those meetings played during the end credits reveals that Thompson isn't over-egging the snippiness in the slightest.)
Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and PL Travers (Emma Thompson) in Saving Mr Banks. Photograph: Fran Ois Duhamel
That Travers never actually reconciled herself with the Disneyfication of Poppins (she vetoed any further films) doesn't matter; Saving Mr Bankswants us to take the truth with a spoonful of sugar, and The Blind Sidedirector John Lee Hancock juggles the affectionate and the abrasive with ease, creating a scrumptious confection with a soft heart, a tart edge and just the right amount of reality. This being a Disney production, one might assume that history had been duly whitewashed, but the original screenplay (which was on the 2011 "black list" of hottest scripts) was written without House of Mouse involvement, and once on board their only major stipulation was to insist that Walt did not smoke on screen. He does however drink and drive a hard bargain, with Hanks confidently portraying the steely resolve behind the twinkling smile and welcoming arms, reminding us that Disney's passion for a Poppins movie was underwritten by the power to make it happen, to get his own way in the end, whether Travers liked it or not.
As for Thompson, who did such a great Scary Mary turn in the Nanny McPhee films, she is sheer perfection in the complex role of "Mrs PL", never allowing the author to descend into crotchety caricature, constantly suggesting a strain of melancholia behind the biting, control-freaky hautiness. As always, her comic timing is impeccable (she plays the script like Paganini played the violin), but what makes her performance soar is the precisely choreographed physicality; the tiniest stretch of the lip, an arch angling of the head, the folding of her arms – somewhere between aggressive and defensive. For all the terse quips and personal reserve, Thompson dances her way through Travers's conflicting emotions, giving us a fully rounded portrait of a person who is hard to like but impossible not to love (although the Shermans may have begged to differ).
Travers actively disliked Disney's movie, but no matter; ultimately, they didn't make it for her. On the other hand, as a diehard Thompsonite who considers Mary Poppins one of the 10 best movies ever made, they appear to have made Saving Mr Banks for me. And I loved it.
copied from the Guardian
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