It was a fair wind which brought the cast of the new Disney film Saving Mr Banks (2013) to the ballroom of London’s Dorchester Hotel on Sunday afternoon, to tell the assembled press how they had recreated the relationship between two of cinema’s most famous personalities, for the big screen.
The much loved English actress Emma Thompson who plays P.L.Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins, described how she felt it was a no-brainer on being offered the part. “How could I not take on this role”, she exclaimed. “After reading the first page I was in. Kelly’s – the writer Kelly Marcel, who has also scripted the upcoming screen version of Fifty Shades of Grey (2014) – film was so beautifully constructed. I loved the character as it let my real self hang out. P.L. Travers, like me, just said what she thought, which I think was great”.
Tom Hanks, who is on a winning streak at the moment with the current release of the critically acclaimed Captain Phillips (2013), agreed, saying that there was never any question about signing up for his role in the film. However it was not without a certain amount of trepidation that he approached playing the part of the master himself, Walt Disney. “There was a responsibility to play Disney. I didn’t know where to start other than my memories. However I also watched old footage of Disney kept at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, which is run by his daughter Diane, who was very helpful to me”. Hanks also reiterated what Thompson felt about the script saying, “none of us wanted to mess with the script as it was so beautifully constructed, it was perfect”.
As far as the style of the film was concerned and how it developed, producer Alison Owen explained that she and Marcel took things as they came. “We didn’t know what to expect when developing the movie – how co-operative (if at all) would the Disney company be, and how much footage would we be allowed to use for instance. Fortunately they were enthusiastic, and other than that I feel Mary Poppins was herself blowing us in the right direction. We met up with Richard M. Sherman – who, with his brother Robert B. Sherman, wrote the music and lyrics for Mary Poppins (1964) – and just to see him watching parts of his life recreated on screen was amazing.
Marcel agreed with what Owen said about finding a direction for the movie. “We clearly had to include things like some of the songs from the original film, and of course Disney himself, as you couldn’t make a film like this without referencing these in some way. But in the end Alison and I just decided to go for it”.
Colin Farrell, who plays P.L. Travers’ father Robert Goff Travers, had, as you’d expect from an actor renowned for his ‘feisty’ attitude, a very personal take on the production. “My role in this film was unique in relation to others I’ve done. It’s funny yet moving, and it’s nice to be a part of something which moves people”. As for when he decide to take on the role? “The minute I saw my voiceover at the very start of the film, I was in”.
The final word on the film and its magical qualities though, was probably best summed up by director John Lee Hancock, who said simply, “you have to, in the end, make the movie for yourself, and just hope that audiences get it.” Having seen the film, you can’t help but feel they will.