The creative process of writing is sometimes so rooted in the subconscious that the lines between the personal experiences of the author, their wish-list and the imaginary world become extremely blurry. For a lot of writers, the spark that pushes them along comes out of a single incident, e.g., Stieg Larsson – the successful author of the “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy is believed to have created the character of Lisbeth Salander based on a girl he knew to be rape victim, but couldn’t help.
|Movie||:||Saving Mr. Banks|
John Lee Hancock
|Produced by||:||Alison Owen, Ian Collie, Philip Steuer|
|Written by||:||Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith|
|Music By||:||Thomas Newman|
|Production companies||:||Walt Disney Pictures, Ruby Films, Essential Media Entertainment, BBC Films, Hopscotch Features|
|Distributed by||:||Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures|
|Released On||:||October 20, 2013 (BFI London Film Festival)), November 29, 2013 (United Kingdom), December 13, 2013 (US)|
|Starring||:||Emma Thompson (Pamela “P. L.” Travers, birth name Helen Goff.), Annie Rose Buckley (seven-year-old Helen), Tom Hanks (Walt Disney), Colin Farrell (Travers Robert Goff, Helen’s father), Ruth Wilson (Margaret Goff, Helen’s mother), Paul Giamatti (Ralph, Travers’ chauffeur), Bradley Whitford (Don DaGradi, co-writer of the screenplay for Mary Poppins), B. J. Novak (Robert B. Sherman), Jason Schwartzman (Richard M. Sherman), Kathy Baker (Tommie, Disney’s executive assistant), Melanie Paxson (Dolly, Disney’s secretary), Rachel Griffiths (Ellie, Helen’s aunt, Ronan Vibert (Diarmuid Russell), Kristopher Kyer (Dick Van Dyke), Victoria Summer (Julie Andrews), and others…|
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And sometimes writing is the only way out of the misery of their current and present world like for the Bronte sisters who all sought to create a fairer – better world for characters like themselves through their stories. The quality of work that comes out of such deep rooted life experiences is usually memorable and the characters are so scintillating that usually the author is eclipsed by their creations, whether its Jane Eyre or Mary Poppins.
The character of the magical nanny who has answers to all problems of the life needs no introduction as children all over the world fall in love with her adventures when growing up. But, not many people know about the personal life of their creator – Mrs P L Travers. Most of the stage adaptations of Mary Poppins today are inspired by the 1964 Walt Disney musical that told the story in typical Disney style with songs and dances and animated characters. But, it was a lesser known fact that Mrs Travers was dead against this film production and if it were not for her near bankrupt status in 1961, she would never have consented to give the film rights to Walt Disney. As it was, she negotiated for nearly a fortnight with the creative team at Disney studios before signing this off.
The 2013 film Saving Mr Banks features this period of the creative process that made the Disney film possible. Directed by John Lee Hancock, the film stars Emma Thompson as Pamela Travers and Tom Hanks as none other than Walt Disney himself, while Colin Farrell plays the father of Pamela Travers who actually inspired the title of the film. The screenplay was written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith.
We meet Mrs Travers who is snappy, almost rude at times and living very much in her own shell. Circumstances are forcing her to travel to Hollywood to meet Walt Disney, who has been requesting the film rights for Mary Poppins for 20 years. She has agreed to consider this – but on two major conditions – no animations and script approval by her. A Disney film without animation? We’ll see.
She arrives in Los Angeles only to find it different and intrusive, manners of the Americans casual and offending and for quite some time is not able to see eye-to-eye with the creative team at Disney including Walt Disney.
While Disney team struggles to understand how personal the world of Mary Poppins is to Pamela Travers, slowly making the connections, their first breakthrough comes with aid of the music. They slowly get along after the team understands her deep affection for the father in the Mary Poppins stories – George Banks – insisting that he should not be portrayed as a cold, cruel, unfeeling parent.
In flashbacks, the film also tells story of a girl called Helen Goff, growing up in Australia, with her parents and two sisters. Helen idolises her mercurial, poetic, imaginative and loving father. But, slowly the film reveals him to be a man struggling financially who seeks relief in alcohol and on more than one occasion ends up humiliating his family. The home becomes derelict and depressing driving her mother to attempt suicide and her father eventually dies of consumption leaving nothing but poverty for the children. Helen’s father is called Traver Goff.
The Disney team and Mrs Travers finally iron out the script with a different, happy ending to the film and everything seems to be approaching the final agreement, when she finds out that there is to be an animated sequence involving penguins. She considers this a breach of promise by Walt Disney and walks out of the negotiations and leaves Los Angeles.
It is at this moment that Walt Disney discovers that Pamela Travers is only her pen name. That she is Helen Goff who lost her father and adopted his name Traver as her pen name. Walt Disney travels to London and talks to her about the less than comfortable childhood he himself had, finally convincing her that the past experiences should not dictate present and future.
Rest is history, Mrs Travers signed off the film rights and Disney made the first Mary Poppins musical.
And so we learn that the merriest character for children came out of a lot of grief sustained by a girl and later a woman who carried that grief through her life, as an attempt to re-create what had gone wrong in her own childhood. Only if she had a Mary Poppins of her own….
As Helen says to her aunt:
You promised you would fix everything.
But what Helen’s aunt couldn’t fix, Mrs Traver’s Mary Poppins could, with a snap of her fingers….Helen never loved anyone as deeply as she did her father and the loss of him through what seemed to a young girl the injustice and unfairness of the world around him, never quite left her.
The film was very well received by both viewers and critics and landed Emma Thompson quite a few prestigious awards. She herself did a fair amount of research when she was selected for the part after Meryl Streep declined and later said that this was one of the most challenging and complex characters she had ever played.
The film is tight as it focuses on a very short period in time and so does not shed any light on Pamela Travers’ family life, her relationship with her son and so on. Tom Hanks is a treat to watch in the character of genial, love-filled, generous owner of the studio that has spread so much happiness in the world. The musical pieces keep the film light and entertaining, especially when they figure out the sequences for Let’s fly the kite and A spoonful of sugar songs..
A treat to watch…
Our Rating: 8 out of 10.
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