Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Mary Poppins creator P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks features little in the spoonful-of-sugar department. Her Travers confounds Tom Hanks’ Walt Disney by being stubborn and disagreeable — attributes well known of the actual author. Despite nailing these details, Banks, which is on the hunt for a Best Picture Oscar nod, has been criticized for having too narrow a view of Travers’ life. Among the omissions: mention of her adopted son and her bisexuality.
“It’s been kind of fascinating how so many people in the press are saying, ‘But she was this and she was this,’” says screenwriter Kelly Marcel (who shares credit with Sue Smith). “This was two weeks in her life, and in these two weeks she was not in a relationship.” As for a story line about her son, it was cut, Marcel says, because “it just didn’t work with the story we were telling.”
Travers’ relentless harassment of Poppins’ songwriters, Robert and Richard Sherman, in the film, however, rings true. Richard acted as a consultant on Banks, and his input, along with tape recordings of their sessions with Travers, served as a vital component in Marcel’s screenplay. According to Marcel, Sherman spent a lifetime disliking Travers (she died in 1996) until he learned more about her troubled early life. “She put [Richard] through hell, but when he read the script and realized what the challenges of her life had been, he was very sad,” Marcel says. “He felt that he could have helped her in some way.”