Oscar Nominee: Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Dir:  John Lee Hancock

If P. L. Travers didn’t like her books being adapted, I wonder what she would have thought about this part of her life being turned into a film?

In the early 1960’s, Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) was facing financial disaster, and after 20 years of being pursued by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) for the rights to adapt Mary Poppins into a film, she finally conceded to discuss the idea. However, she was completely against it, and hated animation, so this film shows the battle between Travers and Walt Disney himself, while delving a little into the author’s life and why she held the character so dear that she wouldn’t sign away the rights.

The film makes frequent indications to things that may have had an influence on parts of the Mary Poppins books and film, some of these are subtle, most are very direct. Travers’ tough childhood is shown, with frequent sequences of her growing up in Australia, with particular focus on her relationship with her father (Colin Farrell), who is clearly shown to be Mr Banks from the books, and why she wants things done perfectly.

Emma Thompson (‘Brave’) brilliantly gets the character right in terms of her snappy difficult nature, this is shown by a tape recording played in the end credits of the real Mrs Travers discussing the script with the writers. There are many scenes that take lots of dramatic licence when showing her alone in her hotel room and such, and these are the parts that have been most hotly discussed and debated, giving the impression that she may have been ‘won over’ by certain things. Regardless of the factual accuracy or not, Thompson is great, and manages to play the role in a way that is both likable and unlikable in near enough equal measure, which is vital in getting it right as by all accounts those involved in the production of ‘Mary Poppins’ found Travers to be infuriating and unpleasant.

Tom Hanks (‘Captain Phillips’) is also on excellent form here as Walt Disney, whose chain-smoking is only alluded to here by a smokers cough and off-screen stubbing out, as Disney now have a no smoking on screen policy. Hanks conveys all the charm expected while trying to appease ‘Pam’, but also nicely gets across the frustration and tougher side to the character when he digs his own heels in a little more. A scene between the two leads near the end actually had me welling up with tears as they share a tender moment and both actors are excellent at drawing the viewer in, listening and watching intently.

There’s a very strong supporting cast here too, with the likes of Bradley Whitford (‘Little Manhattan‘) Jason Schwartzman (‘Moonrise Kingdom’) and Paul Giamatti (‘Ides of March‘, ‘Rock of Ages‘). They all take their roles very well, especially as they’re playing real people (with the exception of Giamatti’s limo driver Ralph who was an amalgam of real drivers). I think the casting for the entire film was excellent really, and though I’m not familiar with all of the historical figures, from research, I have been impressed by the decent likenesses, and how the performances reflect what the real people said about this period in their lives.

It was nice to see in the end credits that Richard M. Sherman, played in the film by Jason Schwartzman, served as a musical consultant. Many of the original songs used in ‘Mary Poppins’ are performed, while the score also riffs on the original music quite a lot, which works nicely. Nominated for ‘Best Original Score’ at this weeks Academy Awards, I don’t think it’ll win, especially with how much it draws on the Poppins score, but still it works within the context of the film itself. Interestingly, as a co-production between Disney and BBC Films, this is one of 3 films this year produced by BBC films to be nominated at the Academy Awards, alongside ‘Philomena‘ and ‘The Invisible Woman’.

Much more poignant and emotional than expected. I think she may have actually liked this a little, especially as it wasn’t animated.