Reviewed by Sam Robinson
Rated PG. Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks. Directed by John Lee Hancock.
I love when cinema captures you just by telling a great story. I love it even more when it’s a story that really hadn’t been known or shared before. And so for Saving Mr. Banks to reveal the tale behind the making of much-loved Disney film Mary Poppins, it drew me in from the first trailer.
But while it may seem that this is the story of how the 1964 classic came to be, there’s actually a much deeper, and darker, story being told. Saving Mr. Banks is really the story of P.L. Travers (Thompson), the author and creator of the Mary Poppins books.
She is wooed by an insistent Walt Disney (Hanks) to come to his studios in Los Angeles to work together to bring Mary Poppins (Travers insists, it’s never just Mary) to the big screen. Disney had been pursuing this adaptation for decades, but Travers is highly protective of her story and unwilling to budge on an endless list of elements that Disney wants. No music. No colour red. No cartoons. It’s incredible that Mary Poppins was ever made!
Throughout the battle over the script, the action cuts back and forth to Travers as a child in rural Australia in the early 1900s. Her father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) is a banker who she loves dearly, however Goff is stuck in a sad struggle between being a father and a banker mixed with an addiction to alcohol.
Before I saw Saving Mr. Banks, I watched Mary Poppins for the first time. As a side note, if you haven’t seen the classic, I recommend you do too before getting to the cinema. As I watched, I noticed this major turn from the whimsical adventures of Mary and the children in the first half of the film to the dark, gloomy tone of the London bank and Mr. Banks’ redundancy in the latter half.
Saving Mr. Banks helps us to see why this is. There’s actually three narrative threads going on: the making of Mary Poppins, Travers’ childhood, and the script of Mary Poppins itself. They are all intertwined in some way, particularly the second two. As we discover, Travers was hit hard by her childhood, in particular her father – who she dearly loved. This clearly affects her brash protection over the story of Mary Poppins.
As we learn, the story of Mary Poppins is inspired by Travers’ childhood. Writing these characters into her fictional world is her way of dealing with the joy, pain, and hurt of reality. It’s when she and Walt are frank about the issues of their own pasts, that understanding is brought about.
Saving Mr. Banks and Mary Poppins both deal with the issue of fatherhood, and in particular, dearly loved yet imperfect fathers. You might watch this film and resonate with having fathers like Banks or Goff, who may have been far from perfect. The sad reality is that because of the fall, we are all imperfect. This does not excuse sin and abuse – far from it – God will hold all people accountable for their actions. But if you’ve experienced pain or suffering as a result of a father, or a family member, I want to show you that the greatest Father we could ever have is the one in Heaven who loves us unconditionally. Read 1 John 3:1 –
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
God the Father is one who lavishes love on us. He cares for us so much that he would send his Son Jesus to die in our place, to save us from our imperfections. And when we personally know this love through trusting Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, he calls us his children, and we can call Him Father (Galatians 4:6).
We are then part of His family: accepted, protected, and secure for all eternity, because of his grace and his Spirit who now lives in us.
Travers attempts to restore her earthly father through her imagination. True restoration is found in Jesus, and our loving Heavenly Father who is perfect, and promises to never leave us or forsake us.
Saving Mr. Banks is a marvellous film. It will play with your emotions, have you craving spoonfuls of sugar, and make you want to book a trip to Disneyland. It’s also a reminder of our need for a Father who loves us and will never leave us. I’m giving it five out of five stars.
Saving Mr. Banks is screening now in cinemas everywhere.