by Julian Spivey
I can’t tell you much about the Disney classic “Mary Poppins,” even though I’m sure I probably saw it as a young child, I have absolutely no recollection of it. Thus, Disney’s 2013 film “Saving Mr. Banks,” about how Walt Disney finally talked ‘Poppins’ author P.L. Travers into a film version of her story, had little effect on me nostalgia-wise. However, the prospect of a really well-made movie, starring an extremely talented and award-winning cast and featuring film history as its storyline interested me quite a bit. For these reasons, “Saving Mr. Banks” was one of my most anticipated movies of the past year.
And, while I came out of the film realizing that it wasn’t going to be the best picture Oscar contender that I had some visions of, and some critics lauded it as, I was supremely satisfied with the product as a whole. The satisfaction resulted from knockout performances, particularly from lock Oscar nominee for best actress Emma Thompson as Travers and a possible Oscar nominee for best supporting actor Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, and a nicely crafted, two-stories-in-one screenplay from Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith.
The John Lee Hancock directed film is truly a winner because it doesn’t just show Disney’s struggles with Travers in getting this film made, which is extremely accurate as you’ll see if you stay for the credits, but it goes in-depth into the reason why Travers didn’t want to see her beloved Mary Poppins (never just Mary, by the way) demeaned or disrespected in anyway.
Based on what I heard in the credits from actual recorded conversations between Travers and Disney’s staff Thompson, without a doubt in my mind, absolutely became P.L. Travers for this role. Her performance of the incredibly rigid English author is so well played that you can’t help but actually despise this woman at points early on in the film – thankfully for the movie’s whole this doesn’t last too terribly long. Hanks’ performance as the cheerfully confident, yet stern when he needs to be, Disney matches Thompson note for note and any scene where the two volley dialogue back-and-forth is essentially a master’s course on acting.
The behind the scenes Hollywood stuff is the aspect of ‘Banks’ that got me to the theatre, but it’s the story behind the story of why Travers is so particular about Mary Poppins that truly had me enjoying this film. This had a lot to do with Colin Farrell, who I didn’t even have a clue was going to be in this movie, who’s performance of an alcoholic banker by the name of Travers Goff (I’m sure you can see the connection here, even if it tries to remain a secret in the film) just added to the terrific performances of the cast. In fact, I think Farrell’s performance should be raved about as much by critics and fans alike as they have for Thompson and Hanks for without this piece of acting the film likely falters, at least the story behind the story segment that features him.
Another performance, one in a small supporting role, which I found to be absolutely delightful, was that of Paul Giamatti’s chauffeur Ralph, tasked with driving Mrs. Travers around. I’ve long considered Giamatti one of the all-time greats when it comes to character actors and he proves my opinion of that once again with a role, which easily could become forgotten in this film had another actor portrayed it. His glass is always half full optimism, despite things that we learn have been thrown at him, is incredibly refreshing especially when juxtaposed with Thompson’s Travers. It’s no surprise that Ralph is ultimately the one to burst through Travers’ tough exterior.
With “Saving Mr. Banks” constantly going back-and-forth through time it never does get jumbled and, in fact, this aspect of the film probably makes it flow much smoother than it could have. You’re never allowed to get bored with the behind the scenes of the film production or the story of Travers Goff and his imagination-filled daughter, Biddy (Lily Bigham), because the script is so good at fading in and out of the intertwining stories.
“Saving Mr. Banks” is a film that will be a must-see for all fans of “Mary Poppins,” although older fans of the film reminiscing on good times will appreciate it more than the younger set, but it’s also a film that should be beloved by all filmgoers for its great performances and stellar script.