Author of Mary Poppins P.L. Travers, (Emma Thompson) deserves applause and, indeed, she got it at my screening. Saving Mr. Banks is about an author's respect for her writing in which her childhood comes to the foreground. P.L. Travers' father, Robert Goff Travers, played with great sensitivity by Colin Farrell, is an alcoholic who works in a bank. Walt Disney portrayed by Tom Hanks with incredible tenderness and yet tenacity, wants to buy the rights to P.L.Travers' Mary Poppins.
It is 1964 and P.L. Travers is about to lose her home. Disney's offer could help her to keep her home, but she would have to sell rights to her beloved Mary Poppins. Refusing to sign a contract until her needs are met, she flies to Hollywood to try to work with Walt Disney, but is appalled at what Disney has in mind. The talented Paul Giamatti portrays a limo driver who greets P.L. Travers in Hollywood, too sunny for her icy British blood. Giamatti as Ralph eventually forms a friendship with the ice queen, a touching moment. Ruth Wilson as Margaret Goff is top drawer in her stiff upper lip portrayal. Jason Swartzman as Richard Sherman who wrote most of the music for the film version of Mary Poppins is endearing though I much prefer when he is looser and able to improvise. Here he is a bit constrained. Pity. Rachel Griffth as Aunt Ellie is as close to a living Mary Poppins as an actress could hope to be.
Emma Thompson has said P.L. Travers was a snob, but I believe P.L. Travers' feelings for her heroine Mary Poppins were not so simple. P.L.Travers had self-esteem and would not allow her writing to be represented by Disney known for cartoons.
In 1964 Disney Studios had never done a live-action film. How P.L.Travers' father was portrayed was of tantamount importance to her. Coming to terms with her past and letting go of her intense feelings for him and his suffering are an important factor in why P.L. Travers refused to sell her rights to Mary Poppins for twenty years. Her work represents a class in British society and having Dick Van Dyke as the lead repulsed her.
P.L.Travers fought Disney on many, many issues, but did not triumph on the casting. " Although Dick Van Dyke claimed that it was the best film he was in, he felt that he was miscast to play Bert and said that either Jim Dale or Ron Moody should have been cast to play Bert. P.L. Travers suggested actors like Richard Burton,Alec Guinness, Richard Harris, Rex Harrison, Ron Moody, Laurence Olivier, Peter O'Toole, and Peter Sellers for the role, in keeping with the British nature of her books."
But Walt Disney got his way. P.L. Travers also did not want animated penguins or the color red. Emma Thompson's portrayal of P.L. Travers is close to perfection and as difficult as the author was, Thompson gives us understanding and empathy for a woman who so loved her father that she would come close to giving up her home for him to be treated with respect. Her respect was his respect and what an iron-fisted lady -- and, indeed, she was a lady -- was P.L. Travers. Director John Lee Hancock moves the film along at a fast pace and has cast an ensemble close to perfection. Screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith have written a series of flash backs that accentuate the motivation behind P.L. Travers' obstinate behavior.
Saving Mr. Banks is a joy to behold. To watch Hollywood -- ironically, Disney Studios -- make fun of itself is a delight. While the British sensibility triumphs, Disney gets the animated penguins. A trade off to benefit us all. Long live Mary Poppins and writers who have the gumption to stand behind their written words and to become celebrated for their tenacity and idiosyncrasies.