Saving Mr. Banks (2013) was one of those films I watched ages ago but for one reason or another, I apparently never got around to writing the post. So, while it’s been a hot minute since I watched the film, I think I can still conjure up enough memories about it to give my honest opinion. The film focuses on Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his attempts to convince recalcitrant Australian-British author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to sell him the rights to her Mary Poppins books. Travers was notoriously outspoken against Disney having anything to do with her beloved character, but obviously, Disney won out in the end because we now have generations of children who have only known the Disney film starring Julie Andrews as the eponymous magical nanny. While the film takes some considerable liberty with the historical record concerning Travers’ opposition to the changes made to her characters in order to soften them for a more family-friendly hit, Thompson and Hanks make believable sketches of both Travers and Disney.
The costumes were designed by Daniel Orlandi, who made excellent use of early-1960s flair for accessories — hats, gloves, jewelry, and handbags — to augment the female characters’ varying personalities and quirks. This is nowhere as obvious as it is in P.L. Travers herself. Orlandi spoke to Vanity Fair around the time the film came out, pointing out that he and Thompson worked together to create a visual representation of the author that communicated how closed off and downright prickly she was. Everything Thompson wears in the film reinforces Travers’ cynical and stubborn personality, right down to her handbag, which Orlandi says Thompson viewed as her “shield”:
“In most scenes, I had Emma carry a big brown alligator bag, kind of like the queen. When I thought in one scene she could go without it, she immediately said, ‘Oh, no, that’s my shield!’ That was P.L Travers. She was substantial and the antithesis of a pushover.” — Daniel Orlandi
Indeed, so much of Travers’ look echoes a suit of armor: her stiffly tailored wool suits, her helmet-like hairdo, the big chunky silver bracelets that echo gauntlets. The earthy color palette consisting of browns, grays, and olive greens is used over and over in Travers’ wardrobe and underscores the fact that she is not some frivolous woman who can be easily manipulated by the attentions of Hollywood, or Mr. Disney himself.
The real P.L. Travers was born in Queensland in 1899 and had a rough childhood marked by tragedy and privation due to her father’s alcoholism and her mother’s mental illness. The film flips back and forth between the early 1900s and 1961, detailing the backstory of how the characters in the Mary Poppins books formed out of Travers’ coping mechanisms as a child. The Mr. Banks in the title of the film is a reference to the estranged father of the children, Jane and Michael, in Mary Poppins. Mr. Banks was based on Travers’ own father, and she was adamant that the character shouldn’t be softened to be more palatable to Disney’s target audience. The same fight also surrounded the sugar-coating of Mary Poppins herself, who was inspired by Travers’ great-aunt Helen.
Overall, the costumes come across as very intentionally and collaboratively designed between the designer, the director, and the actors. I love it when that reads very clearly on the screen!
What did you think about Saving Mr. Banks (2013)? Tell us in the comments!