The Making of Mary

Cape Times (South Africa), February 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Making of Mary


HHHH

SAVING MR BANKS. Directed by John Lee Hancock, with Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Annie Rose Buckley, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Griffiths, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, Ruth Wilson and BJ Novak

REVIEW: Leslie Felperin

THIS based-on-a-true-story account of the making of Mary Poppins reveals that when Walt Disney offered to buy the rights to PL Travers's book, the author insisted on just two things: that she would retain script approval and that there'd be no animation.

History shows she didn't get her way, at least as far as the animation was concerned.

But dancing penguins aside, Saving Mr Banks suggests Travers put up a good fight with Disney, then one of the most powerful studio heads in the business.

The ingenious script adroitly builds layers on top of this central conflict, using flashbacks to reveal how bleak events in Pamela Lyndon Travers's childhood nourished the cheerful story of Mary Poppins.

The film, directed by John Lee Hancock, is a cunningly effective study of the transformation of pain into art, with flashes of high comedy.

Some contrarians will balk at the highly sympathetic depiction of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks).

However, audiences will swallow this tasty spoonful of sugar without complaint. Delightful box-office result should be expected.

In a part once mooted for Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson takes charge of the central role of PL Travers with authority. Firing off withering, perfectly timed put-downs, she's a fearsome figure of feminine steeliness. When a woman with a babe-in-arms on a plane to Los Angeles offers to move her own hand luggage to make room for Travers's bag, she offers no thanks and only asks if "the child will be a nuisance" on the flight.

Only a glancing allusion in the script betrays the real Travers did in fact have an adopted child, but then there's quite a lot else about her that has not been incorporated.

Apparently, there were also rumoured affairs with women and an interest in mysticism and the occult, but there's only a shot of her reading a book by guru George Gurdjieff to show for it. The credits thank author Valerie Lawson for inspiration from her respected biography Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of PL Travers, but a warts-and-all portrait was never on the cards in this family film.

That goes double or more for the portrait drawn of Walt Disney. The twinkly-eyed, avuncular figure incarnated by a moustachioed Hanks - who only fleetingly shows off a glower worthy of a Mafia crime boss ordering a hit - couldn't be further from the negative depictions of Disney in, say, Richard Schickel's scathing biography The Disney Version or the recent Philip Glass opera, The Perfect American. …

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