Saving Mr. Banks is just the most wonderful, heart warming film. It’s the kind of film that I find very moving, to the point where I can’t even watch the trailer now without having a little sob. I went to see it on my own actually, when it had been out for a while and dropped to one showing at the cinema, so if anyone looked in they’d have seen me crying on my own, slap bang in the middle of a virtually empty theatre. I must have looked very silly, but it was definitely worth it.
It’s the story of P.L. Travers meeting with Walt Disney in L.A. to negotiate selling the rights of her Mary Poppins books so they could be made into a film. It’s based on a true story (although with an awful lot of artistic licence thrown in), as Walt Disney spent twenty years trying to get the rights to the characters before P.L. Travers finally gave in. Now, I have a little confession to make here. I’ve always loved the film Mary Poppins. It played a big part in my childhood, although not quite as big as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which I used to (quite literally, this is no exaggeration) watch practically every single day as a three/four year old. In fact I have very clear memories of singing the songs to both films while playing in the sandbox at play group. I think I was the only person in the world who believed that Dick Van Dyke was a cockney after watching Mary Poppins. That’s not my confession, although it’s equally shameful. No, my confession is that I wasn’t aware the Mary Poppins film was based on books at all. How bad is that! Now, after seeing Saving Mr. Banks, I’m on a mission to hunt them down, to see just how much darker they are than the fluffed up, animated Disney extravaganza.
I don’t think I can express quite how much I enjoyed this film. The casting was simply brilliant. Emma Thompson is, I think, quite possibly my favourite actress, of all time. That’s a very big claim to make, but I think over the years she’s proved herself more than worthy. Her wonderful expressions, her whole embodiment of the character, gave me such a real and vivid picture of P.L. Travers. She was not a likeable woman, but I really felt I understood the reasons why she was the way she was, and I sympathised with her in a way that I never thought I would. After having seen Victoria Coren-Mitchell’s Culture Show special that included interviews with her family, who claimed that Travers died “not loving anyone and with no one loving her,” I really didn’t think I’d react to her character in the ways that I did. She seemed like a mean and uncaring old goat, but in the hands of Emma Thompson she was heartbroken and troubled, and perhaps that’s more of an accurate portrayal than first thought.
Tom Hanks was similarly brilliant in his portrayal of Walt Disney. Again, his character’s obviously been sugar-coated, but it’s hardly surprising considering the Disney Corporation collaborated on the film. It was Colin Farrell who surprised me most though. I don’t usually like him as an actor at all, I find it very hard to see him as a character beyond his Colin Farrell persona, and I don’t think I could ever forgive him for the horrendous monstrosity that was Alexander. He was absolutely perfect as Travers Goff though. It was such a moving performance, he was such an adoring but troubled father, and his portrayal was completely heartbreaking. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that he stole the show, I really was touched and pleasantly surprised.
Of course, what’s ironic and yet really quite funny is the fact that P.L. Travers would probably have detested Saving Mr. Banks. It really is overly sentimental, and for that reason alone I think she would have loathed it. There was obviously quite a lot of artistic licence used. Walt Disney’s portrayed as a warm and furry father picture without any of the prejudices he’s since come to be known for, and the film completely ignores the incredibly strange and damaging relationship Travers had with her adopted son Camillus. Rather like Enid Blyton, it seems that as someone who spent her life writing books for children, P.L. Travers didn’t have a clue how to respond to her own child at all. The ending is incredibly sweet and happy because Travers sees Mr. Banks being saved in Mary Poppins, which seems to have made the whole thing worthwhile, although in reality she wasn’t much of a fan of the film at all, especially the animated sequences. It’s funny how so many of the iconic parts of Mary Poppins – such as all the songs and the casting of Dick Van Dyke, the little touches that really made the film – were disapproved of and fought against by P.L. Travers. She insisted on taping every discussion and meeting about the making of the film, and some of the actual recordings are played during the end credits, which add another really interesting dimension to Travers as a person. It’s actually rather charming, in a tight lipped and disapproving kind of way. What’s very touching is how important her books were to her though, and how she was determined not to give in or allow any changes made to her vision of her characters. She was clearly a very feisty and fierce woman, and I admire Walt Disney for even attempting to sway her mind.
Obviously, the story being told in Saving Mr. Banks is not an accurate one by any means, but the story they’ve chosen to tell is just so lovely. It’s funny and sweet and weepy, it’s got all of the things that I love in a film, and even just thinking about parts of it now is making me a bit misty-eyed. I really did think the whole film was just wonderful. I’ve only seen it once at the cinema, but I can already tell that this is probably going to become one of my favourites. But if there’s one thing I took away from the film more than anything else, more than any sweet moral message or feeling of warmth and cosiness, it was an overwhelming urge to go (and) fly a kite. Bravo!