The two weeks P.L. Travers, the writer of Mary Poppins, spent in Los Angeles with Walt Disney as he attempted to convince her to sell the rights of the story to him…
Saving Mr Banks stars the ever reliable Tom Hanks as the entertainment mogul and Emma Thompson as the protective author of the children’s classic, with support from Colin Farrell as her father, the film is directed by John Lee Hancock (writer and director of Oscar nominated The Blind Side).
Firstly, this reviewer knew little of Mrs Travers (always Mrs Travers, not Mrs), upon entering the film, and little about Walt Disney, other than his creations, so I can’t pass comment on how accurate a portrayal this movie is. However, it makes for an entertaining watch. Each scene that Hanks and Thompson share crackles with energy, the frisson between them is fantastic. The juxtaposition of this very English woman and an all American man is glaring. The script is sharp and witty and their dialogue sparkles. Travers is depicted as justified, but at times irrational, whilst Disney is charismatic and charming.
The flashbacks that explain Mrs Travers’ behaviour are well shot and link well, but are a little flat and tend to slow the tale down somewhat. Colin Farrell does an admiral job of bringing life to Travers’ father, but it takes a while for these scenes to really engage. It is almost with relief that the film cuts back to the main narrative for more sparring between its two leads. The other characters are competent but somewhat incidental.
We all know the inevitable denouement of the story, it’s just a question of how Walt will win Travers over. It’s all somewhat formulaic how this occurs, but makes for some wonderful moments. Namely, the sight joke about supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus, seen in the trailer, but also a joke about Dick Van Dyke (Upon seeing Dick Van Dyke’s performance again you marvel all over again at how bad his Cockney accent was), also when Mrs Travers first lets her guard down, to name two. Once again, it’s a case of the trailer taking some of the edge off the surprise, but it’s not all laughs as it would make you believe, and ultimately makes for an affecting story. Particularly tender is the relationship between Travers and her chauffer as he challenges her assumptions. The intertextuality is well woven into the script and it makes you want to re-watch Poppins to see what kind of dialogue is occurring between the two movies.
Some of the same concerns that Travers had about her adaptation of Mary Poppins could be levelled as criticisms of this movie. Travers was concerned that Disney would take the edge off the story. Upon researching the back story of P.L. Travers, it seems that the same thing might have occurred in this instance. For example, there is no hint of her bisexuality, perhaps irrelevant in this context, nor how enraged Travers really was at her treatment by Disney. It leaves you unsure of how many other liberties have been taken with the truth.