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Saving Mr Banks (DQ)


Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Ruth Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, B J Novak, Bradley Whitford, Rachel Griffiths, Michelle Arthur

Director: John Lee Hancock

Treated with warmth, wit and a spoonful of sugar, this is the story of how Walt Disney (Hanks) wooed and, through trials and tribulations, eventually won the tetchy, cranky, 'difficult' author P L Travers (Thompson) for the rights to her famous children's character Mary Poppins.

But it's also very much the story of Travers' own childhood in the Australian outback with her harried mother (Wilson) and adored, alcoholic father (Farrell).

We can see that many of characters in Travers' (born Helen Travers Goff: Travers was her father's Christian name) stories were based on episodes from her younger days Down Under and that, as Walt himself ultimately points out, the Poppins story is more about the children's father than the children themselves, making him a central rather than peripheral character.

The feud between Disney and Travers rages from 1961 almost up to the premiere of the film in 1964. From the start, Travers (no one is allowed to call her Pamela or, worse still, Pam, although Disney does) insists on script approval and no animation. She is also horrified to learn that the movie is to have songs, tries unsuccessfully to veto Dick Van Dyke for the role of Bert the chimney sweep (OK, Anthony Newley might have been better), and takes an instant dislike to the songwriting Sherman brothers.

'What's wrong with his leg?' she asks Richard of his limping brother. 'He got shot,' she's told. "Hmm,' she replies. 'Hardly surprising.'

She does, however, gradually take a shine to her driver (winningly played by Giamatti) whom she later declares to be the only American she ever really liked.

Although Thompson isn't physically the right type, original tape recordings suggest that she plays Travers exactly as she was. And, while I had reservations about the casting of Hanks as Disney, he sinks himself into the character with complete conviction, besides being probably more amusing than Walt ever was. Schwartzman and Novak also score as the singing Shermans, delivering rousing renditions of what was perhaps one of the best original film scores ever written.

And, if you're struggling to put a name to the familiar face of the actress playing Disney's PA, it belongs to Kathy Baker, decades ago a star and still busy, but unseen in mainstream movies for many a long day.

David Quinlan

USA 2013. UK Distributor: Walt Disney. Colour by deluxe.
125 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 27 Nov 2013