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May 13, 2021

Cinema Review: Mary Poppins Returns

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The strangest thing happened. Only hours after watching this, I saw its cast being interviewed on the Graham Norton Show. It was the usual wall-to-wall ‘aren’t we fab’ tripe while Norton stroked their egos and laughed uproariously at their anecdotes… and the thing is, the movie they were promoting was suddenly diminished in my eyes, reduced to just ‘product’. Which is a shame, because I was buoyed and charmed and thoroughly entertained by it. Australian writer PL Travers’s much-loved nanny is back in London, literally appearing from the clouds, to help the now grown-up Banks brother and sister in their time of need. Behind in paying off a loan and with three children of his own to support, widowed Michael (Ben Whishaw) will lose the family home unless he can repay Wilkins, the nasty bank manager (Colin Firth), the full amount that he owes before Big Ben strikes midnight in three days. Enter Mary (Emily Blunt), who, armed with little more than song and dance and magic, will assist Michael and Jane (Emily Mortimer) in averting catastrophe. The tunes are ‘serviceable’, in that each of them reflects the mood of the moment while propelling the narrative, but none is memorable in the way that Chim-chiminey, Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious and Feed the Birds were from the 1964 original. To my ears they sounded a tad ‘brassy Broadway’, with the exception of Michael’s haunting lament for his lost wife, A Conversation. As homage to Robert Stevenson’s earlier film, director Rob Marshall gives Dick Van Dyke a belated cameo, and he also includes an animated sequence that doesn’t quite blend with the crisp period realism that otherwise prevails. Cleverly plotted – the manner in which time is stopped so that Wilkins might be thwarted is ingenious – brightly coloured, and with Blunt comfortably stepping into Julie Andrews’s shoes, it is a pleasure for young and old. At the end, all the kids in the packed cinema clapped excitedly, which is about as high a recommendation that you could get.

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