Dir. John Lee Hancock; Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, 125mins
Walt Disney Pictures indulges in some self-congratulatory mythologising in this sentimentalised comic account of how avuncular Uncle Walt (Tom Hanks), after 20 years of asking, was finally able to persuade the precious, prim, haughty – and hard-up – British author PL Travers (Emma Thompson) to grant him the film rights to her Mary Poppins books. “Mary Poppins does not sing,” she insists, and “I won’t have her turned into one of your silly cartoons.” But, of course, the joke is on her, because Walt’s film is a timeless family favourite. Thankfully, Thompson’s playing of Travers is so deft that we instantly warm to her, and forgive her her snobbery. Furthermore, her scolding of the song-writing Sherman brothers in the writers’ room is positively Joyce Grenfellian, while the snorting derision with which she greets Walt’s appraisal of Dick Van Dyke is priceless.
All of which jollity makes the repeated flashbacks to Travers’ formative years as the young child of an alcoholic Irish banker (Colin Farrell) frankly tiresome. We miss the twinkle of Thompson and Hanks in every one of these scenes. And, even worse, they insult the intelligence of both the film viewer and of Mrs Travers, with their implication that her stories were nothing but thinly fictionalised accounts of her own childhood.