Film review: Saving Mr Banks (8 out of 10)

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P L Travers
Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P L Travers

No doubt, like many parents, when I was reading the Mary Poppins books to my children I discovered these stories were much darker and altogether more weird than the Disney version.

The nanny was a far tougher figure than the one portrayed by Julie Andrews and strange astral figures from the skies made the stories definitely more challenging.

But Walt Disney, whose children loved the books, was determined to use the stories as a basis for a new movie.

Trying the get the rights from author P L Travers, though, proved the hardest part. Travers disliked Disney’s work and held out for nearly 20 years, turning the movie mogul down on an annual basis.

Saving Mr Banks starts as Travers realises that, for financial reasons, she will need to sell the rights. Howevver, as part of the agreement she will be able to ‘help’ with the screenplay and overall control.

But she hates virtually every aspect of the proposed film and is a complete nuisance.

However, this is just one aspect of the movie as we get to see Travers’ tough life as a young girl in Australia and her love for her alcoholic father that moulded the rest of her life.

It’s the only film I recall seeing a PG rating because of ‘extreme emotional scenes that may upset young children’.

It certainly is an emotional roller-coaster ride and the strength of the acting is main factor.

Tom Hanks as Disney s excellent (yet again) and Emma Thompson as Travers is superbly grumpy.

Colin Farrell slots in well as Travers’ father and there’s a neat role for Paul Giamatti as Travers driver in America.

Special mention, though for Annie Rose Buckley who plays the young Travers in a remarkable performance.

It’s a well thought out film but, as with the Mary Poppins movie, the real-life edges have been smoothed off.

Travers’ adopted son is only obscurely referred to and her passion for astrology is ignored.

In fact, by all accounts Travers (real name Helen Lyndon Goff) was even more difficult to get on with than portrayed.

We also see glimpses of Disney as a hard-headed businessman - you don’t create an empire like his without having to make some tough decisions.

So, while this is a simplistic look at a highly complex character in Travers (and indeed Disney), its humour and lightness of touch make it an enjoyable movie.

Stick around for the credits at the end to hear a real-life recording in 1961 of P L Travers telling the Mary Poppins Disney production team what they should be doing.

Film details: Saving Mr Banks (PG) 125mins

Director: John Lee Hancock.

Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti,

Screening courtesy of Cineworld Crawley