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t the Eu­ro­pean pre­miere of Mary Pop­pins Re­turns, di­rec­tor Rob Mar­shall, of Into The Woods, Nine and Os­car-win­ning Chicago fame, de­scribed this anx­iously awaited se­quel as ‘a love let­ter to Lon­don’. Which is al­ways a bit wor­ry­ing com­ing from an Amer­i­can, and, sure enough, tourist land­marks such as Tower Bridge, Buck­ing­ham Palace and Big Ben all fea­ture, the lat­ter pro­vid­ing this un­de­ni­ably gor­geous-look­ing mu­si­cal with a ver­tig­i­nously spec­tac­u­lar cli­max.

De­scrib­ing it as ‘a love let­ter to the 1964 orig­i­nal’, how­ever, is closer to the mark. Much-loved it may have been and re­spon­si­ble for turn­ing Julie An­drews into a star, but the Robert Steven­sondi­rected pro­duc­tion had its strengths and weak­nesses and so, a mere 54 years later, does the se­quel.

Packed with song-and-dance num­bers, an­i­mated fan­tasy se­quences (yes, the waist­coat-wear­ing pen­guin wait­ers are back) and silly scenes that are fun but don’t feel they re­ally be­long (yes, you, Meryl Streep), this is a se­quel that goes to great lengths to recre­ate the rhythm, style and magic of the orig­i­nal. Any­one who saw Sav­ing Mr Banks will know that Mary Pop­pins’s cre­ator, the for­mi­da­ble P L Travers, would prob­a­bly 10

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hate it just as she is said to have hated the first film. But mil­lions of us loved that and I’m pretty sure, de­spite some ob­vi­ous short­com­ings, mil­lions of us will love the se­quel al­most as much.

Ever since spot­ting her in My Sum­mer Of Love back in 2004, I’ve been a huge fan of Emily Blunt but, as she bravely floats to Earth un­der an um­brella and into the role made truly iconic by An­drews, that ad­mi­ra­tion is im­me­di­ately tested. Blunt’s clipped, fright­fully posh English ac­cent is ex­tra­or­di­nary.

An­drews’s Pop­pins may have been strict but her voice was all sweet­ness and nicely spo­ken light. Blunt, by con­trast, sounds like a cross be­tween Celia John­son in Brief En­counter and Pene­lope Keith from TV’s To The Manor Born, although in her de­fence it does help with mo­ments of com­edy, is prob­a­bly closer to the char­ac­ter that PL Travers had in mind, and barely af­fects her un­ex­pect­edly lovely singing at all.

But it is jar­ring in a film oth­er­wise go­ing all out for con­ti­nu­ity, with Dick Van Dyke re­turn­ing at the age of 93 to reprise (well, al­most) one of his roles (he wasn’t just Bert the chim­ney sweep) in a sweet, funny and im­mensely touch­ing cameo, while An­gela Lans­bury (two months older than Van Dyke) takes on a small role I’m sure the pro­duc­ers must have been des­per­ately hop­ing An­drews her­self would play.

The film is set some three decades af­ter the turn-of-the-cen­tury orig­i­nal amid ‘the great slump’, and No 17 Cherry Tree Lane has seen many changes. Mr and Mrs Banks are dead and the house is now oc­cu­pied by their ar­tis­ti­cally in­clined son, Michael (Ben Whishaw), his three young chil­dren, and cook and house­keeper Ellen (Julie Wal­ters, es­sen­tially repris­ing her per­for­mance as Mrs Bird in Padding­ton).

His sup­port­ive sis­ter, Jane (Emily Mor­timer), is a con­stant vis­i­tor, which makes more sense once we dis­cover that Michael’s wife died a year ear­lier. But

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