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Saving Mr Banks (AF)


Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell, Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson, B.J. Novak, Rachel Griffiths, Kathy Baker, Melanie Paxson

Director: John Lee Hancock

It’s going to be a tough year for accurately predicting prestigious acting awards.

Judi Dench (Philomena) and Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) are obvious contenders and now Emma Thompson joins them with her perfect performance as celebrated writer P L Travers in an utterly delightful version of her continuing battle with Walt Disney over his obsession with bringing her classic novel Mary Poppins to the screen.

When Travers turns up in 1960s Hollywood, ready to spike Disney’s aim of garnishing the film with songs and animated dancing penguins, she is almost an archetypal buttoned-up Englishwoman, insisting on being called ‘Mrs Travers’ and generally refusing to be infected with Disney’s sometimes saccharine geniality.

In that respect the casting of Tom Hanks as Disney (rightly second-billed, as was George Clooney in Gravity) is perfect since Hanks’ usual acting ace in the hole is coming over as largely loveable, which he does here. In reality, however, it would appear from real – as opposed to reel-life Hollywood history - that the creator of Mortimer, Mickey and Company, first seen here being cute on (monochrome) television with Tinkerbell soaring around him, was rather less endearing that Hanks “Call me Walt!” plays him. No matter. He fits in just fine for a storyline that has Travers consistently winning against him until she is finally won over and, sneaking into the premiere of Mary Poppins, enjoys what has been done to her literary child…

Saving Mr Banks
Director John Lee Hancock skillfully balances past and present, sensibly concentrating on Thompson who never steps out of character for an instant and is speech-and-picture perfect whether reacting to the hedonistic pleasures of a Hollywood hotel, jousting with Disney or reacting with horror to the idea of Dick Van Dyke as a Cockney chimney sweep (his Cockney accent remains a corny cinema classic) or the songs of the Sherman Brothers, well played by composer Jason Schwartzman and lyricist B.J. Novak). Paul Giamatti, too, exudes just the right amount of charm as Travers’ chauffeur

Expecting historical and/or biographical accuracy in a Hollywood movie is mostly pointless. Almost all films, biopics or otherwise, are essentially fiction whatever claims are made for them.

The claims “Based, or inspired by a true story” can almost always be taken to mean that only the facts have been changed for the sake of better box-office”. Here you need to wait until the end credits to be informed that Valerie Lawson’s biography ‘Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers’ inspired Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith’s endearing screenplay.

Who cares? Saving Mr Banks is a genuine pleasure from start to finish.

Alan Frank

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: 23 Nov 2013