Saving Mr. Banks reveals the story behind how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) spent 14 years convincing Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to give him the film rights, culminating with the 1964 Julie Andrews musical that snagged five Oscars and today is widely regarded as a classic. The film failed to win Travers’ affections, and so she refused to sell Walt the rights to her sequel novels.
The project is based on a screenplay written by Kelly Marcel (creator of the now-defunct Terra Nova), with John Lee Hancock directing. Hancock directed The Alamo and The Rookie for Disney, though his most successful film to date is the Best Picture-nominated The Blind Side. He also co-penned Snow White and the Huntsman, for what it’s worth (or, rather, not worth).
Colin Farrell is already onboard as Traver’s father (the inspiration for the Mr. Banks character), while The West Wing alum Bradley Whitford is up for the role of Mary Poppins screenwriter Don DaGradi.
Variety reports that Paul Giamatti has signed on for Mr. Saving Banks, where he’ll play Travers’ chauffeur around Hollywood, Ralph (the celebrated character actor also has Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave on his to-do list). Meanwhile, frequent Wes Anderson collaborator Jason Schwartzman is onboard to portray Richard Morton Sherman, the songwriter behind Mary Poppins and several other Disney films.
Ruth Wilson is portraying Travers’ mother in flashbacks (she appears alongside Farrell). The English actress is on the verge of breaking out in Tinseltown, thanks to her acclaimed role as the brilliant-but-twisted femme fatale Alice Morgan on the BBC’s Luther. She’s playing the female lead in Disney’s Lone Ranger, and appears in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina this fall.
Marcel’s script continues to attract stellar acting talent, to work alongside Hanks and Thompson as they re-enact the (ultimately, irreconcilable) ideological clash between Disney’s American-as-apple-pie outlook and Travers’ traditional English manners. There’s substance to the story, seeing how Travers’ disapproval of the Mary Poppins movie went far beyond simple dislike for its live-action/animated sequences (as one example).
Of course, it remains to be seen if Saving Mr. Banks explores the Disney-Travers dynamic beyond conventional culture clash territory (ex. He’s an innovative artist and she’s an uptight writer from the opposite side of the pond – will they ever get along?).
Saving Mr. Banks begins production later this year, with (most likely) a late 2013 release in mind.
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