x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Wooed by Walt Disney in Saving Mr Banks

Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson and Colin Farrell talk about their work in Saving Mr. Banks, a movie about the difficult birth of the classic film Mary Poppins.

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, left, and Emma Thompson as the author of Mary Poppins, PL Travers in a scene from Saving Mr. Banks. AP Photo / Disney, François Duhamel
Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, left, and Emma Thompson as the author of Mary Poppins, PL Travers in a scene from Saving Mr. Banks. AP Photo / Disney, François Duhamel

In Saving Mr. Banks, Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney, who used all his sunny Californian charms to persuade the writer P L Travers, played by Emma Thompson, to allow him to use her story, Mary Poppins.

Directed by John Lee Hancock, the film recounts the two weeks Travers spent in 1961 at Disney Studios, where Disney battled to win her consent for his whimsical adaptation of her work.

The Australian-born Helen Lyndon Goff, who changed her name to P L Travers after moving to Britain, began writing her Mary Poppins stories in 1934. For two decades, Disney had been trying to secure the rights to her tale. Having nonetheless begun the film, Disney invited Travers to come and work with the screenwriter and composers Robert and Richard Sherman, hoping to win her confidence, never imagining how hostile she could be.

“Around some corners, you’d find this terrible monster. And around other corners, you’d find a beaten child. She was the most extraordinary combination of things,” said Thompson.

“I suppose that was the scary thing. In films, we often get to play people who are emotionally, or at least morally, consistent, in some way, and she wasn’t consistent, in any way.”

The movie is constructed around repeated flashbacks to Travers’s childhood in Australia, marked by boundless admiration for her father, a daydreaming bank manager and chronic alcoholic whose first name was Travers.

“Every time Travers appears on screen, you are seeing a particular stage of his development which is actually a particular stage of his disintegration,” said Colin Farrell, who plays the father. “He was somebody who is married with three children and has all the responsibilities that come with that, but emotionally, he has never been able to leave his childhood behind.”

The film doesn’t claim to depict a historically exact account of events. But it is based on memories of Disney veterans, notably in creating the unforgettable tunes for the 1964 film Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews.

Richard Sherman was “literally a never-ending fountain of stories, of facts, of anecdotes, and of bits and pieces of everything that had happened”, according to Hanks.

The actor said the new film is a perfect illustration of the ruthlessness a filmmaker must sometimes have to exert to get a project completed.

“At this point, Walt Disney was pretty much used to getting his way because everybody loved him and he was the guy who invented Mickey Mouse,” Hanks said. “In the creative process, which is really what this movie is about, you come to loggerheads and you just have to keep the process moving forward, even if that requires jumping on a plane and flying to London.”

Thompson said she was sure what Travers would have thought of Saving Mr. Banks: “I think what she would say about this is, ‘This is an absolutely ridiculous film! It has no relationship, whatsoever, to what was happening. But, it’s about me. And the clothes were really rather nice.’”

• Saving Mr. Banks is out now in cinemas