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Author P.L Travers (Emma Thompson) is in dire financial straits. Her Mary Poppins books are beloved by readers young and old, but since she’s resolved not to write another, her income has dried up. She does have a single remaining option – but it’s one she’s been resisting for years. She could sign on the dotted line, and let filmmaking maestro Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) adapt her stories for the screen.
Without concealing her reluctance, Travers finally agrees to travel to LA from her London home and meet with Disney. Outspoken and unbending, it’s not long before she’s making mincemeat of his creative team, producer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J Novak and Jason Schwartzman). She is determined that Mary Poppins will not be Americanised in any way, and that the film will feature neither singing nor animation. The immovable object of her willpower is about to meet the unstoppable force of Disney’s persuasive charm.
But in the course of their clash, he will discover that there’s more to Travers than mere stubbornness. The waspish author was once a little girl called Helen Goff (Annie Rose), whose relationship with her adored but troubled father Travers (Colin Farrell) would shape her future life and work.
- Did you enjoy the film, and what did you like most about it? Which scenes or performances particularly stood out to you?
- If you have seen Mary Poppins (1964), how did Saving Mr Banks affect your perception of the original film? What fresh perspective does the new film offer, and how do the two films complement each other?
- Watching Saving Mr Banks, we have the benefit of hindsight – we know that Mary Poppins was eventually made into a film, and that Disney got his way in many respects. In what ways can knowing the outcome actually enhance our experience of a story? What other questions are brought to the fore when ‘How will it end?’ has already been answered?
- How did you feel about P.L Travers at the beginning of the film, and how did the script and Emma Thompson’s performance help to create the character? How did your response to her change as the flashback scenes provided more insight?
- How did you respond to the relationship between P.L Travers and Walt Disney over the course of the story? In what ways do their personalities contrast, and what do they have in common? What is refreshing about seeing a non-romantic relationship between a man and a woman on film?
‘One cannot live on cake alone.’ – P.L Travers
- What does the film have to say about creating art which balances the dark and the light? What kind of films, television and music (for example) might you categorise as cultural ‘cake’, and why? Which might you categorise as cultural ‘medicine’, and do you agree that both are needed?
- What does Saving Mr Banks have to say about the psychological roots of creativity? How do P.L Travers and Disney each create stories which reflect their personal fears and hopes? In your view, how much does art reveal to us about the artist as a person?
- P.L Travers accuses Disney of ‘encouraging children to face the world unarmed’. To what extent are we morally obligated to prepare children for life’s difficult realities, and to what extent should we protect them from these realities?
- How did you react to the character of Travers Goff, and his struggle to cope with adult responsibilities? To what extent does the film encourage us to sympathise with him, despite his failings? What happens when ‘being true to ourselves’ becomes incompatible with our responsibilities to others?
- Does Mary Poppins truly belong to P.L Travers, to the readers who love her – or to both, or neither? What do Travers and Disney gain from the journey which they take together? How do we benefit when we share the things dearest to us?
‘That’s what we storytellers do. . . we instill hope. Again and again.’ – Disney
- What does George Banks really stand for, and what is ‘saved’ through the making of Mary Poppins? What kind of stories give us hope, and why? Is reality a hopeful story, and why or why not?