Review: Saving Mr. Banks / Cert: PG / Director: John Lee Hancock / Screenplay: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith / Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell / Release Date: November 29th
Disney's Mary Poppins (1964) is one of the few fantasy films, which virtually everyone with even a passing interest in cinema seems to know. What most people aren't aware of however is the true story of P.L. Travers, the woman whose damaged childhood in Australia gave life to the iconic, no-nonsense nanny who brought magic into the lives of the Banks family at No 17, Cherry Tree Lane.
For a period of twenty-odd years the master storyteller Walt Disney courted Travers, trying to persuade her to let him bring the magical Mary Poppins to the big screen. Eventually in 1961, Travers agreed to travel to Hollywood to meet Disney and discuss the development of the film. The following fortnight, which Travers spent in America, created a drama almost as legendary as the film it produced.
The relatively straightforward story of Disney's Saving Mr. Banks, starring that most English of actresses Emma Thompson as Travers, alongside the archetypal Hollywood star Tom Hanks as the jovial Disney, focuses on the programme of persuasion which Disney embarked upon in order to get Travers to allow him to recreate his interpretation of her books. Its no frills approach allows room for each of the main actors to bring a group of highly complex individuals to life on screen in a way which, though it may not necessarily make you like the characters, does create a degree of sympathy for each of them. After watching the film's depiction of her early years – with a father (played with uncharacteristic mellowness by Colin Farrell) who escaped his humdrum life as a bank manager (inspiration for the character of Mr. Banks) with the help of his vivid imagination and a bottle of whiskey; her well-meaning yet hopelessly overwhelmed mother (Mrs. Banks); and a wealthy aunt who seemed to appear from nowhere shortly prior to her father's death, bringing a semblance of order to the young girl's life (Mary Poppins) – you can understand why Travers felt so attached to her creation, and was so distraught when she saw what Disney did to it.
Equally well, the film subtly shows Disney's well-documented darker side. Though on the face of it he was a warm and friendly man who won Travers over in part by constantly telling her how much her stories meant to his daughters, he clearly kept his own long-term goals in sight.
In Saving Mr. Banks director John Lee Hancock and writer Kelly Marcel have created a film in which the narrative flits between turn-of-the-century Australia and 1960s California, seamlessly melding the two periods of Travers' life. By including snatches of Mary Poppins' songs and iconic imagery, Marcel's screenplay also creates a fresh and engrossing film, whilst respecting the original – an enviable achievement in anyone's book.
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10