Esteemed English actress Emma Thompson seems to have the Midas touch. Every project she is involved with, whether as writer or performer, is a perfect paradigm of its genre and practically guaranteed for box office success. Every which way she turns, Thompson excels. Her latest project, Saving Mr. Banks, the story of how P.L. Traver’s Mary Poppins came to the big screen premiered in London at the BFI Festival to rave reviews and will go onto general release later in the month.
Accompanied by co-stars Tom Hanks and Colin Farrell, Thompson looked stunning on the red carpet in a distinctive floaty blouse by UK designer Maria Grachvogel and a mullet hemmed black skirt. Her 14-year-old daughter, Gaia, whom she usually keeps well out of the spotlight, was also with her mum, along with Greg Wise, Thompson’s hunky husband, looking relaxed in jeans and a jacket.
Saving Mr. Banks is biographical drama, directed by John Lee Hancock, and depicts the long struggle that Walt Disney (played by Hanks) had to obtain the rights to the Mary Poppins book from the famously prickly Mrs. Travers. Arriving in LA, the City of Angels, she wrinkles her nose and declares it smells. Of jasmine? offers her driver. No. She snorts, “Of chlorine. And sweat.”
Emma Thompson clearly revels in this curmudgeonly character, flinching at being addressed by her first name, and insisting to Walt that she won’t have her protagonist “turned into one of your silly cartoons.” It is not a million miles away from the fearsome persona of Nanny McPhee, another strong and decisive female whom Emma Thompson adapted herself from the original Nurse Matilda books, and brought to life in a memorably bewitching way in two films. With echoes of the super powers of Mary Poppins, Emma Thompson as Nanny McPhee magically transformed a disruptive household of maniacal children into practically perfect little angels.
Looking back on Emma Thompson’s career, she would appear to have sailed from strength to strength, but she admits to a dark period after her separation from Kenneth Branagh, when work was her salvation. Writing the screenplay for Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, a work which was to earn her an Oscar, she sought refuge in the process from the intense scrutiny the so-called “golden couple” had come under.
Serendipitously, it was on this film set that she met Greg Wise. The Cambridge Graduate first came to prominence in the University’s famous Footlights, and in the television role that gained huge popularity as Suzie Kettles in Tutti Frutti with Robbie Coltrane. Since then, she has had a string of wonderful roles including as Professor Sybil Trelawney in the Harry Potter movies and as the betrayed wife of Alan Rickman in Love Actually.
More recently, she voiced the mother of the titular character of Merida in the Disney animation, Brave. This opportunity to showcase her Scottish roots was clearly one she relished.
The critics have been charmed by Saving Mr. Banks and the way it gives the audience an insight into such a well-known and beloved children’s classic. Kate Muir in The Times remarked on the secret delight in hearing such lines as “Dick Van Dyke? A horrid idea.” She calls Emma Thompson’s acting “mesmerizing and droll.”
Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian was a little more guarded, saying the film is “indulgent and overlong” but adding that with a “spoonful of sugar and just the tiniest bit of medicine: it all goes down, just about.” Scott Foundas in Variety remarks on the self-made reinventions of the two central parts. P. L. Travers was a girl from the Australian Outback who transmogrified into the epitome of the uptight English matron, whilst Walt Disney himself was a boy from a farm in Missouri who became more or less the Wizard of Oz.
In the Hollywood reporter, Leslie Felperin commends the practically perfect choice of Thompson to play the “waspish” Travers, insisting it “makes you wonder how anyone else could even have been considered”. Once again, this consummate and talented actress has taken on a part which suits her and showcases her considerate talents in every way.
Written by: Kate Henderson