To say that Walt Disney never gave up on his ambitions is a bit of an understatement. It took 20 years for Disney to convince P.L. Travers to sign over the rights to her Mary Poppins book so he could make it into a movie. How he went about it and what transpired during the filming is one of the two story lines. Watching the machinations of the Disney staff work with Pamela (she insisted on being called Mrs. Travers) and Walt’s passive and gracious acquiescence to her most unreasonable demands is definitely entertaining.
Emma Thompson is superlative in her role as Pamela Travers. She is haughty, arrogant, impatient, rude, blunt, opinionated, humorless, self-righteous and alone! Travers’ dialogue is ingenious. I loved her airs while delivering blistering comments on everything from the weather to the landscape to the cartooning of America and Disney Land itself. She refuses to compromise her ideas, principles and is determined to save Mary Poppins from the clutches of the greedy and way too familiar Walt Disney.
The other story line, (notice I didn’t refer to them as first and second) is the story of Helen Lyndon Goff‘s (aka PL Travers) childhood. At an early age, her family moved to a very out-lying part of Australia, in a last ditch attempt for her father to hold down a job. She doted on her dad, an alcoholic bank manager and a dream-weaver. She was enchanted by his stories and he in turn indulged her in all sorts of whimsy. I found this to be the most compelling part of the movie. Ginty, (a nickname her father gave her), adored her father and as is often the case, was a chief enabler for him. She would do anything for her daddy. His drinking of course leads to his ultimate demise but not before the sister arrived! There were allusions throughout the childhood story which was told in flashbacks, that Margaret Goff’s sister would/could come and make everything right(Winds in the East). And as you might have expected, Helen’s aunt arrives, carpet bag in hand, umbrella in the other. She employed the kids to help clean the house, she nursed her brother-in-law as best she could; AND SHE was the inspiration for the character of Mary Poppins.
Helen Lyndon, took her father’s first name as her own, and wrapped herself as tightly as she could in a persona that protected her from the world and the loss of her beloved father.