MATTHEW BOND FILM OF THE WEEK
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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
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