Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Saving Mr Banks (PG)

Now I know this film has been out for a couple of weeks, but life has this uncanny habit of inserting its screwdriver into the least suitable part of the works at just the wrong time.

So it's been a bit of a battle to get out from Popcorn Towers and actually spend a couple of hours in the company of Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson and - kinda - Mary Poppins.

Fortunately, nothing major has crossed our path (except maybe Nebraska, that looks damn good) since Banks was released, so nothing else has got in the way. One advantage of a massive blockbuster being on the horizon (evening Bilbo).

If you've missed the hype around Saving Mr Banks, you've done well - but allow us to fill you in.

Hanks plays Walt Disney, Em plays Mrs Travers (she wot wrote Mary Poppins), Paul Giamatti plays her driver Ralph, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak play the poor buggers trying to write the film and Ruth Wilson and Colin Farrell play Mrs T's parents.

The film focuses on the battle (and it was a fight and a half) to get the world's favourite umbrella-bearing nanny to the silver screen, interspersed with flashbacks to Mrs Travers' early life growing up down under with her two sisters and dad's drink problem.

With me so far?

Now, a lot has already been written and said elsewhere about Farrell's English accent in this film - but it's better than the Irish one he tried in Daredevil (and yes I do know he's Irish), and in a world where Dick Van Dyke's laughable attempt is looming on the horizon, Farrell does just fine.

A lot has also been mentioned of Oscars. Yes, I know, you're still doing your Christmas shopping, but the great and the good of Hollywood are well into next year and planning their wardrobes.

On the face of it, Saving Mr Banks wouldn't appear to be Oscar fayre - it's good, don't get me wrong, in fact it's very good, but it doesn't have that 'worthy' feel of a 12 Years A Slave or The Butler.

But it's the performances that elevate this above a standard, Disneyfied biopic.

As ol' Walt, Hanks is sublime. He's not over the top, he's not trying to act everyone else off the screen. Instead it's a subtle, measured performance. He perfectly captures a man trying to hold himself to a promise made to his children.

Hanks plays him as a thoughtful, caring man. A man people liked working for, a man who - while keen to make money - was driven by wanting to make magical movies for children of all ages.

It is a measure of the strength of Hanks' performance that his is not overshadowed by Emma Thompson. And this is every bit HER film.

Travers was a woman haunted by her past, a difficult childhood without which there would have been no Mary Poppins. As a result, she is fiercely protective of both Poppins and the Banks family.

And Thompson captures this perfectly.

Travers' fears of going to Hollywood, her efforts to kybosh the film and her years of keeping the world at arm's length did not make her a warm, loveable human being - but Thompson gets in behind the facade, producing a touching, almost fragile portrayal of a woman lost in the world.

The film teaches us (or certainly me) that the film was Travers' last chance to make some money. The books sales had dried up and she'd had to get rid of her maid. Amazingly, this didn't make her any more likeable.

Despite all of her defences, through Thompson you warm to Travers. You share her fears and feelings, her mannerisms and expressions make you laugh and smile. The only time you're not on her side is when she's being nasty to the script and song writers.

There's really precious little to be negative about with Saving Mr Banks - yes it's a bit saccharine, but it's a Disney film. It's actually quite toned down for the House Of Mouse.

The look of the film is also excellent - it has the perfect, aged look of a film shot in the early 60s. That slightly worn look celluloid takes on after being stored for many years.

Oh, and Giamatti almost steals the whole thing. If he isn't on the Oscar shortlist, I'll be very cross...

If I had any criticism, it would be the flashback scenes. Yes, we need to see what shaped Travers, yes we need to discover the inspiration and what led to her hatred of pears, but these could have been cut down. And more should have been made of the incident with her mother.

But (and it's a huge but) all is forgiven and forgotten during the  final scene when Walt rocks up in London to try to finally get the film made.

The emotional weight of that encounter, added to the emotion of the premiere, leaves you feeling warm of heart and moist of eye.

Away from all the Oscar buzz and hype, Saving Mr Banks isn't a film that will change your life - but it will make you feel warmer towards the world.

With two stellar performances from stars at the top of their game, and a rendition of Let's Go Fly A Kite that will have you grinning from ear to ear, this is a film the whole family will enjoy.

And it'll make you want to watch Mary Poppins when you get home.

Which is what I'm now going to do...

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