Prim, proper, enigmatic, stoic with perfectly clipped pronunciation, elocution and delicious rudeness, as P.L. Travers, Emma Thompson is front and center commanding every scene in SAVING MR. BANKS. Described by Thompson as being “the most extraordinary combination of things”, Travers “wasn’t consistent in any way. You would not what you would get from one moment to the next. You could have had a very close moment with her on one day - and I got this from her friends - and then the next day, they might have gone to see her and she would have treated them as if. . .[she didn’t want t be bothered].”
Helpful to Thompson in her research into Pamela Travers was the discovery, “She kept everything she wrote and sent it to the archives at Brisbane University. So she felt, I’m certain, that she was an important contributor to the artistic, to the culture, and wanted to have it preserved.” That preservation and sense of self-worth gave Thompson a wealth of material to work with, allowing her to delve into Travers’ personality beyond the audio recordings of the 1961 meetings with Walt Disney, Don DaGradi and the Sherman Brothers. “She [her personality] went everywhere. . . She was like going into a maze. Round some corners, you’d find this terrible monster. And round another corner you’d find a sort of beaten child. She was the most extraordinary combination of things. And I suppose that was the scary thing, because in films we often get to play people who are emotionally, or at least morally, consistent in some way. And she wasn’t.”
Keen to discover that “P.L. Travers was so fascinated with myth, and was a searcher all her life”, Thompson noted that “there was a spot of Zen mastery in the way in which she worked”, something which was lovingly incorporated into the production design of Travers’ London home in the film.
An emotional balancing act to rival a chimney sweep dancing on the edge of a rooftop, Thompson embraces the emotional dichotomy of P.L. Travers, creating a tapestry of nuance that captures the secretive joys of childhood, wistful longings of love for her father, and a paternal protectiveness that steals the heart. Fierce, fearsome and sympathetic all in the same moment, Emma Thompson is magic.