Original release: December 23rd 1964
Running time: 139 minutes
Director: Robert Stevenson
Writers: Bill Walsh, Dan DaGradi, P.L. Tavers
Cast: Julie Andrews, Glynis Johns, David Tomlinson, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Dick Van Dyke
I remember watching Mary Poppins every Christmas when I was young, and loving it every time. It had everything I wanted: an exciting big city, magical adventures and, of course, some singing and dancing. I loved it for its familiarity, warmth, and a view of a disharmonious family life that held certain similarities to my own.
The Banks family live in a large house with cooks and cleaners, and a nanny on the brink. She storms out after Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber) run off for the fourth time that week. The children are simply starved for attention, their parents being absent and very busy.
Mr Banks (David Tomlinson) works long hours at a bank, and even when he’s around, he is grumpy and never wants to play. Mrs Banks (Glynis Johns) is more sensitive to her children but preoccupied with her work in the Suffragette movement. Actually, one of my oldest memories is of Mrs Banks singing “Votes for Women!” and asking my mother what it all meant, as well as being quite envious of her sash.
With the family in disarray, they’re in need of a certain lady, and as if by magic, Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) is watching from atop a cloud. She knows where she is needed. Arriving on the East Wind, she nabs the nanny job at the Banks’ household and introduces them to a whole new way of life.
Poppins gives the Banks children something that they’ve never had before: fun. She is kind, allows them to be inquisitive, and most importantly, be kids. The two of them are seen and heard by Mary, and yet she still disciplines them more successfully than their parents. She can see the world from their position, their injustices and their triumphs. She taps into what it means to feel ignored by those you love the most.
One reason why I’m still so fond of Mary Poppins is her staunch independence. She comes and goes as she pleases, beholden to no one. She is “practically perfect”, but she isn’t all the way – still having that wiggle room to make mistakes. She is defined by her own morals, and not by a husband or occupation as many other women were, and still are.
At the end of the film, Mr Banks is still undoubtedly the head of the house – we were never going to have a revolution. Nevertheless, his outlook towards life and his family has shifted radically; he resolves to try harder, to do better by his wife and children rather than focussing solely on money.
Whilst Poppins embodies so many feminist qualities, it’s interesting that Mrs Banks’ overtly feminist activism is somewhat swept under the carpet. It’s never really discussed, and Mrs Banks and Poppins barely converse on the matter. Instead, Mr Banks is glorified as the patriarch of the household. He, and only he, under the guidance of Poppins, can regain the control of his family and get them back on track.
Nevertheless, the value in Poppins should not be dismissed. She transcended social barriers and gender roles and achieved what she set out to do. Her primary concern is the welfare of her charges, and she gives them a jolly good time, as well as teaching them tolerance.
For instance, the Bird Lady (Jane Darwell) is someone that Jane and Michael would not have noticed before, and when they see her again with their father, he is outraged they would want to spend time and money on someone “beneath them”. Poppins opens their eyes to the rest of the world, and shows them not only how lucky they are, but how luck can come in different guises.
Mary Poppins is feel-good, upbeat, and life-affirming. It’s about the value of having fun and accepting the eccentricities in people. However metaphorical the sugar may be, we all need a little to help the medicine go down.
Frances likes words and pictures, regardless of media. She finds great comfort and escape in film, and is attracted to anything character-driven with a strong story. Through these stories, she will find meaning in the world. Three movies that Frances thinks are really good for this are You and Me and Everyone We Know (Miranda July), I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK (Chan-Wook Park), and How I Ended This Summer (Alexei Popogrebsky).
When Frances grows up, she would like to write words and make pictures and have cool people recognise her on the street and tell her that they really enjoy her work.
She can be found overreacting and over-caffeinated on Twitter @penny_face, a childhood moniker from her grandmother owing to her gloriously round face.