I know the title is a little dramatic, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to talk about a film that has impressed me thoroughly in the last couple of weeks. A film that made me think about cinema as a whole and the direction it’s heading in. See in the climate of modern films that are focused on awards or financial gain it’s refreshing to see a film slip in and do the opposite, a film that goes back to the roots of cinema: telling a story.
I’m sure we’ve all been through times when we’ve been worried about the state of cinema, seeing a succession of bad films released, making you think that something needs to save it all. That’s when a special film, or a number of films come along and restore your faith. It happened to me at the start of the year with the release of The Grand Budapest Hotel, a genuinely spectacular piece of cinema that still remains my film of the year so far, and it has indeed happened again to me.
Recently I sat down to watch a film having been excited to watch it for months, and for once my expectations were not disappointed, or even met for that fact, they were entirely exceeded. The film I am referring to is the proudly non-Oscar winning Saving Mr Banks.
Telling the story of the writer of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, and her struggle with Walt Disney to make the film adaption of her book properly, the film focuses on the events taking place whilst the film was being made and also a separate narrative in the form of Traver’s flashbacks to her childhood and the real Mr Banks. The cast is superb, with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as the Sherman brothers in charge of music and lyrics, but the star of the film undoubtedly is Emma Thompson as Travers herself. Thompson not only managers to capture the grumpy and strict side of Travers who wanted things her way, but also the emotional side of the writer who was afraid of letting her father down and the financial troubles she would face if the film wasn’t made. It was a fantastic performance that completely stole the show and quite rightly so.
Both sides of the narrative are very strong, with Thompson in her later years trying to help make the film in the way that she feels fit, counterbalanced very nicely by Colin Ferrell as Traver’s father in Australia when she was a child. And it’s that second narrative there with Firth has the father that adds depth to the film, because it shows the real Mr Banks and the motivation behind Travers trying to make the film good. We see the two sides to her father, the one who is imaginative and energetic as a fantastic father, and then the side that drinks and struggles to hold his life together. It is an emotional film but at the same time it is fascinating and it really engages you, evoking you to feel this sense of pathos for anyone and everyone that’s in the film.
Now, as many will know I have a fixation on screenplay and scripts, so I was particularly impressed by this film because of how the screenplay captures the balance between comedy and tragedy perfectly. There are times at which the film made me laugh out loud, and they were accompanied perfectly by the times that nearly made me cry, but overall the film had me smiling throughout the running time and indeed past that. It’s impressive as well because the screenplay is actually based upon very strong source material in the form of recordings that were taken of the meetings with Travers, the Sherman brothers and Don DaGradi the script writer. Travers wasn’t going to sign the paperwork for the rights of the book to be used unless she was happy with the film, and so she demanded the meeting were recorded in order to ensure the safety of her book.I have actually listened to the original recordings, and not only did it show how the cast were perfect as their characters, but also how spot on the screenplay is. Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith who wrote the film managed to capture the characteristics of the individuals with such precision and it just made me feel even more engaged in the film.
But it’s not just about the fact I liked how the film was made, I also like what the film stands for. It wasn’t about financial gain at the box office, it wasn’t about picking up awards (only receiving an Oscar nomination for Thomas Newman’s excellent score) but it was about the core principal that cinema if founded on; story telling. It wasn’t a film about visuals or padding that a lot of other modern films are based on, but it’s main focus is purely on the characters and the story. For me it was one of the best films of last year despite being overlooked at the award ceremonies, but that makes it more special for me.
I like the idea of the film because the people who made it are clearly passionate about the source material and about the original film of Mary Poppins. It’s actually quite an interesting film in that sense because you learn things about the making of the film and the inspiration behind it, until you come to realise why the book was written in the first place. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that as the title states it shows how Mary Poppins was not about someone coming to babysit two naughty children, it was about helping a man when he needed it most, the man in question being Traver’s father of course.
That is one of the most important features of the film, it has a lot of heart. It manages to be sad but uplifting at the same time, and all in this charming manner that makes me want to watch it over and over again because I know it will never grow old. The way in which the film has a lot of heart is also shown through the fact that it’s three dimensional. It shows both sides of the argument very clearly with every aspect covered, so it doesn’t actually pick a side. What it instead does is allow you to make a judgment for yourself by showing all aspects of Disney, the Shermans and Travers to let you decide.
I honestly could talk about this film for hours on end, it just means to much to me because it’s keeping the spirit of cinema alive in an industry that is becoming more and more fixated upon financial gain. This film goes against that and instead focuses on story telling and the value of entertainment. That’s why for me it’s actually better than some of the films that did do well at the awards. Films such as Gravity that were very good on a technical level and as a cinematic experience, but served little purpose in terms of story telling are no match for films like Saving Mr Banks. This film was about telling a story in a way that the audience could connect with, instead of using visual effects and computer generated fluff to catch their attention. I’m still glad that Saving Mr Banks didn’t win any Oscars and that it was only nominated for one because it supports my argument from recent blog posts that the Oscars don’t matter. So many beautiful and brilliant films are made that go unnoticed by the awards, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good, and Saving Mr Banks proudly takes its place among those films.
If you liked the film Mary Poppins then you will love this film too. There are actually a lot of references to the original film that you realise after every time you watch it, and not just the brilliant placement of the songs you love. I personally think Mary Poppins is fantastic (I’m sorry Mrs Travers) and so the film had me smiling throughout, but I still think it would be enjoyable if you have at least seen Mary Poppins. That way you would at least have an understanding of the actors, characters and the events of the film. I’ve grown up with the film so this was a real treat for me.
It’s always going to be a special film for me, because both me and my beautiful girlfriend were excited to see this in the cinema but unfortunately missed it. So me being the little old romantic that I am decided to surprise her by buying it on the day it was released on dvd. We sat down to watch it the following evening, barely able to stay in our seats because of how excited we were, but that was no match for how happy we were afterwards; we absolutely loved it. And since then I’ve watched the film about four more times and it just gets better. Unlike films such as Gravity that can be viewed once to see what all the fuss is about and not feel eager to watch it again, Saving Mr Banks keeps pulling me back in like a hoover, and to be honest it doesn’t bother me. I love that film and everything it stands for.
If anyone hasn’t seen the film then I urge you to watch it as soon as you can. Don’t hesitate like I foolishly did when it was in cinemas, just watch it and you will not be disappointed. You may never see Mary Poppins in the same way again, but by the end you will love both films.