During the Stay-at-Home order, I have had the opportunity to watch more movies than I usually do. Still, it’s not a tremendous amount, as I have a lot of cooking, cleaning, schooling, and writing to do, not to mention projects here and there and everywhere. But that is the reason I have been able to review not one but two movies this month, both of them having a prevalent theme of writerliness. This one is Saving Mr. Banks, and it is about the relationship between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, the woman who wrote Mary Poppins.
I did some handheld research after I watched the movie, always curious to know where history left off and imagination began. (I do this constantly while watching things like The Crown.) It is based on a true story, but there are plenty of embellishments. In other words, while I would trust the sketch of the story, I would not trust in any of the details. For instance, P.L. Travers was reportedly very similar to her on-screen character, but she did not do any dancing that we know of, nor did she have a cathartic cry that we know of. She did, however, have an alcoholic father who died of—what I saw listed somewhere—the flu (so varied slightly). She also was not able to hold the rights to the Mary Poppins movie over Disney’s head, because he had already bought the rights at the point that our story begins, but it is widely understood she still terrorized the studio during the process. As for the driver? I have no idea if he existed, but he sure makes for good storytelling.
Saving Mr. Banks is not the kind of movie that my teens would watch: it’s on the slow side, more subtle, though my son did wander in and say, “This looks interesting.” So maybe I’m wrong. To be frank, I would watch literally anything that has Emma Thompson in it: she is one of my all-time favorites. And I like Tom Hanks, too. He’s so soothing. I actually have not loved a lot of things with Paul Giamatti, but he was just the sweetest in this movie. So, it was well-acted, all around. (There is more star-studding going on, as well.) Sort of impeccable, that way, as impeccable as an English woman out for tea. And though the story was hardly action-packed, it was engaging and interesting. The cinematography was beautiful for the small scope. The writing of the movie was even and sensical. As an author who would love to collaborate on movies one day, I was sort of watching it like research, as well. And dreaming. And being jealous.
The title was a bit of an enigma to me until it was pointed out that Mr. Banks is the name of the father figure in Mary Poppins. At least for the sake of the movie, Travers’s motives, her writing, her very personality revolved around her idolizing the father that she had know only until he died when she was eight years old. Of course she’s going to see her father in that character, and she acts like a bulldog in her fierce protection of him and of the story. The story also bears a lot of resemblance to her own childhood, so she felt that guarding it was a sort of family loyalty.
There are psychological layers here, and a little bit of Disney magic, but it’s mostly a calm exploration of a couple of historical characters, one in particular. Characters you didn’t even know that you wanted to know more about, but in the end, you were happy to have. I would recommend the movie, unless you usually only watch action movies or comedies or something. It didn’t teach me anything about writing, really, though it did encourage me to look again at my characters and my stories and my own psychology. And I thought: if given the chance that Travers was given—to have my book made into a major motion picture—I would want to guard it, too, to be hard-nosed and true to myself and champion my vision, but I would also want to be a nice and grateful person along the way, and enjoy every minute of a dream-come-true.