Last Friday, we saw Saving Mr. Banks. This is a strange movie, I must say. Not that the acting wasn’t fine: Tom Hanks shows his acting chops by sustaining the role of Walt Disney, and I must say that he makes the great theatrician look wonderful: kind, gentle, and generous, but a fine business man as well. Readers of my blog and TV viewers will understand that I think Hanks is our best actor in America, along with Nicholas Cage. Hanks is willing to try anything, to my enormous admiration. No less spectacular in her performance is Kenneth Branagh’s ex-wife, Emma Thompson. I don’t say that to diminish her in any way: she is absolutely the equal of her near genius husband, and the thriller they did together — Dead Again — stands as the best film noir redact since the forties, really. No kidding. Here, Ms. Thompson is given the unenviable task of performing the role of the thoroughly unlikeable P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books.
Disney made a promise to a youngster to do Mary Poppins at some point. So, he manages to persuade Mrs. Travers to come to Hollywood and work with him and his writers on the now classic film. She resists at every point, is nasty, sarcastic and profoundly ungrateful.
Now, here’s where I part company with the film. The director does not come to grips with the reasons for Mrs. Travers’ irascibility. Yes, we see that her father was a drunk. Yes, he moved the family out into the country away from the rest of Australia. He had a bad problem with work. Yes, she sees him die. Sure.
But why did his daughter turn out to be such a thoroughly unpleasant person? I don’t like to have to guess. Lots of people have drunken louts for fathers. I know it’s tough. But why does she think that Disney’s exquisite animation belittles the Magic of the Mary Poppins story? Why does she show no appreciation for Disney’s generosity, for his consideration, for his conferring right of refusal on every aspect of the film?
The film, then, is not perfect in terms of script. However, this is a super film: remarkably entertaining, well performed and providing a delightful insight into the making of a great movie as well as the two main characters. Three stars.