“A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down…” Yet, it was far from a sweet process to have the infamous P.L Travers’ Marry Poppins film adaption see the light of day.
Its 1961 London, author P.L Travers (Emma Thompson) realises her financial situation is looking bleak. Her agent implores her to swallow her pride and accept Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) offer on making Marry Poppins into a film. An offer she has been rejecting for the last 20 years, but Disney was adamant as he made his daughters a promise that their beloved book would make it to the big screen.
Travers has never been a fan of Disney films, and made it blatantly clear that there will be no animation in Mary Poppins. Of course anyone that’s seen the 1964 film knows that Disney didn’t hold his end of the agreement. In fact a lot of Travers wishes were dismissed. But in Saving Mr Banks much of the history behind the making of Mary Poppins has been romanticized.
Travers hasn’t signed over the rights of the book and because of this Disney has to keep her as happy and involved as possible. It is a tedious struggle as she dislikes all the songs, character descriptions, costumes and even names. She wants to correct and change almost everything and is flabbergasted when they reveal that Mr Banks will have a moustache – this was a personal request by Disney.
Finally the composers, writers and Disney realises how very personal the book is to Travers when she storms out of the room, distraught upon hearing Mr Banks is too be portrayed as a horrible man. She makes a very emotional outcry that he is not. Yes, he isn’t perfect but he was not a bad man. It’s become evident through this and flashbacks that Banks is modeled after Travers’ father, a alcoholic who died young but always encouraged Travers to be far more than what society would have her be or believe.
The film is spilt in two main stories, flashbacks of Travers life in 1906, Allora, Queensland and that of 1960’s Los Angeles, the scripting of Mary Poppins for filming.
As previously mentioned the film has romanticized certain details; such as the sweetheart of the film (in my opinion) Travers’ limo driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti). He is the only character that seems to see beyond the cold exterior Travers’ projects. At first his unswerving positive outlook on life annoys her but ends up warming her heart and he is the only person she is excited to see. Sadly he didn’t exist. But Giamatti did well in portraying this fictional character, a truly humble man. The whole interaction between Disney and Travers in truth occurred mostly via letters, telephone and telegrams. Disney was on holiday when Travers went to America. Thus, the persuasion scene never happened. The dialogue between the two was adapted from the mentioned correspondence. In the film Travers is shown to rollercoaster through emotions while watching Marry Poppins at the premier, ending up in tears of endearment. This wasn’t the case. Travers was very disappointed. She felt so betrayed that she made it clear that Disney will never again get the rights to her work, nor will any American for that matter adapt her work. She even stated this in his last will.
Thompson does a superb job in portraying a deeply complex woman. At first you dislike her, but soon realise it’s a false persona that aids as a shield, protecting a fragile and scared girl. Her father, Travers Goff, whose name she took as a stage name (Pamela Travers), was a alcoholic banker, who died of influenza when she was seven. Together with Thompson, Farrel steals the show, so to speak.
Naturally, the film references the book and the 1964 movie version. So if you haven’t read or seen it, I suggest you do. Although Mary Poppins was a disappointment to Travers, it will always be a much beloved film. We just fell in love with the endearing characters, song and dance. Saving Mr Banks does offer an interesting perspective and is a worthy watch.