Monday, 31 March 2014

Review: Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Based on the development of the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks (2013) stars Emma Thompson in a BAFTA and Golden Globe nominated performance as author, P.L Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney himself. The film depicts the author's 1961 visit to Los Angeles as she is relentlessly pursued by Disney, in his attempt to obtain the rights to adapt her popular novel. Based on an adapted screenplay by British screenwriter, Kelly Marcel and directed by John Lee Hancock, the film explores the origins of Mary Poppins, adding a new dimension to the World’s most famous flying nanny and her creator.

After reluctantly agreeing to meet Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), prim and proper P.L Travers (Emma Thompson) flies from her London home to Los Angeles to discuss the possibility of a big screen adaptation. Upon arrival, Travers discovers that a team of screenwriters and musicians are already hard at work, adding some studio magic to her precious source material. Awkward and tempestuous, the author clashes with every alteration or adjustment to her beloved protagonist and takes an immediate dislike to the Walt Disney brand. In perseverance, the filmaker finds a mutual bond with Travers and begins to discover the truth behind her book and the reasoning behind her increasingly defiant behavior. As the author reflects on her childhood, parallels of her early life with her mother Margaret (Ruth Wilson) and alcoholic father, Travers (Colin Farrell) merge with the fictional lives of the Banks family, revealing that there’s much more to Mary Poppins than dancing chimney sweeps and kite-flying jollities.

Hancock’s film is an inexplicably sweet, undeniably likable and a wholly inoffensive treat for the entire family. Told in two alternating timeframes depicting Travers as a cantankerous adult and as an innocent, yet somewhat neglected child. As the two narratives run together, or smartly intertwine through song, the reason behind Travers’s caustic personality is exposed. Whether in 1960’s Los Angeles or Queensland, Australia in 1906, Hancock and cinematographer John Shwartzman (half brother of Jason, who also stars) create a beautifully warm and authentic aesthetic ensuring that the characters, even in the darkest of circumstances, are shown in the greatest light. The mounting shifts in chronology fade-in through bright skies, to Thompson’s deeply contemplative features as the audience is continually drip-fed snippets of information that successfully create a perpetual level of intrigue.

Travers is expertly performed by Thompson, who in the greatest role of her career, brings the character to life with the perfect balance of acerbic and comedic qualities. However, it is the constant and subtle, pained expression of a woman forever haunted by her past that makes her role so heartfelt and convincing. Although the pair never feature in the same scene Thompson and Colin Farrell, as her father, connect seamlessly, each motivating the others performance to the finest degree. Tom Hanks is predictably charismatic and engaging as Walt Disney, but then could the film-maker, in a production distributed under his own name, be portrayed in any other way? Although criticised for whitewashing blemishes and fictionalising the relationship between Disney and Travers, it is undeniable that the film still tells an utterly engaging story that reveals a new perspective on one of its most beloved movies. Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderfully lavish and authentic production, that is both charming and engaging. Perhaps certain events have been sugarcoated but Hancock’s generous spoonful helps the medicine go down in the most rewarding and perfectly delightful way.

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