“I KNOW what he’s going to do to her, she’ll be cavorting and twinkling,” cries author PL Travers (Emma Thompson) as she considers the hatchet job that Walt Disney is about to unleash on her beloved character, Mary Poppins. When she travelled to Hollywood in 1961 to meet the film-maker, she was determined that Mr Banks would not have a moustache, there was to be no singing or animation, and no Dick Van Dyke (let alone a Dick Van Dyke with a terrible Cockney accent).
Everyone knows the dénouement — that she failed on all three counts — and it is said that despite fighting her corner admirably, Travers did not approve of the final film. Nevertheless this story, which follows the tempestuous fight between English battleaxe and American Mr Nice Guy is fêted by critics as being a fun, feelgood movie with excellent performances from both Hanks and Thompson.
Travers had more than just an artistic interest in preserving the integrity of her best-selling book. She had based the nanny Mary Poppins on her Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths) and Mr Banks on her much-loved father (Colin Farrell) who, having failed in his banking career, took to the bottle and died unhappily in his early 40s.
Heated and often funny exchanges between Travers and Disney — ably abetted by the film’s screenwriter Don Da Gradi (Bradley Whitford) and the Sherman brothers who wrote the music — are interspersed with darker, more melancholy flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in Australia.
Thompson is in her element in this film — described as a mélange of Nanny McPhee and Miss Jean Brodie, she is fearsome and formidable — while Hanks plays the avuncular film maker just trying to please his daughters, who have been begging him to make a film of their favourite book for years. In the end, it’s the author’s dwindling bank balance that decides.
Film: Saving Mr Banks
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford