Saving Mr Banks – Reviewed by David Edwards
Produced in 2013, Saving Mr Banks is the tempestuous story of how the Disney film Mary Poppins starring Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews was brought to the screen in 1964. Behind the Hollywood fanfare lies a fascinating, untold story.
Given the Disney connection, at first glance Saving Mr Banks might be categorised as a children’s film but to do so would be a travesty as this is a multi-layered film that contains stories at many levels for people of all ages.
Saving Mr Banks will certainly appeal to children but the deeper exploration of human nuances brings forth a true story that many adults can relate to. The two lead characters who initially appear diametrically opposed in almost every sense, play off one another with great sensitivity to reveal the many aspects of this moving story. The performances of Emma Thompson playing the author of Mary Poppins, PL Travers and Tom Hanks playing the role of Walt Disney, are understated but superbly executed. Thompson and Hanks, both of whom are dual Academy Award winners provide the opportunity to contrast the backgrounds and culture of Travers and Disney.
On one level Disney is the archetypal Hollywood mogul with the bonhomie, lavish lifestyle, larger-than-life personality and where where the notion of ‘failure’ is non-existent; a man accustomed to getting what he wants. Opposing Disney is Travers, the Australian-born writer who has lived for many years in London. Travers is refined, aloof, brittle, pedantic, defensive, rather anti-social and dismissive of the American way, particularly that of Hollywood. The constant tensions and battles to reach some common ground between Travers and Disney provides for powerful and revealing drama and seismic shifts in their understanding of one another.
Disney has long been besotted by the idea of bringing Mary Poppins to the screen but to do so he requires the agreement of Travers as owner of the copyright. And therein lies the tale. Without spoiling the experience for those who will view this film, Mary Poppins is a work close to the heart and life of author PL Travers. Unbeknown to Disney and for most who have read Mary Poppins or seen the film, the story is highly autobiographical. The character of Mr Banks in Mary Poppins is based upon Travers’ own father with whom she had a special relationship and whose memory she cherishes. From her father stemmed the important experiences that shaped her belief system and the storytelling skills that underpinned her later success as a writer. Unaware of this link, the creative team at Disney and Walt Disney himself are constantly frustrated and perplexed by the obstinate refusal of Travers to accept any changes to the seemingly whimsical, fictitious characters or the settings she has created. All are precious treasures and she guards these with great care, taking on the role of custodian to the ongoing frustration of those with whom she must work.
Saving Mr Banks is one of those wholly satisfying films; a superb cast, an excellent script and a plethora of highly memorable songs that continue to live on over fifty years after Mary Poppins was first screened.
Saving Mr Banks is available on DVD. Duration 126 minutes.