Over 50 years later, with a change of cast and a new soundtrack, Mary Poppins has well and truly returned – and what a welcome return it is. There may have been some trepidation about modernising a beloved classic- what is the world of Mary Poppins without Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews after all? I know personally I was concerned about a sequel and doubted how, over half a century later, the return could possibly capture the spirit of the original, but I sat through the entire two hours with a smile on my face and left feeling a little bit more cheered than I’d entered. It’s no surprise really, given the star-spangled cast and team, that the film is enjoying such success in its approach to an all too familiar storyline and there’s nothing but confident self-assurance throughout the whole piece as you’re greeted back into the Poppins universe.
The film opens thirty years later with the Banks children all grown up and the economic slump of the 1930s begun. Michael Banks, now a widowed father of three, finds himself in financial difficulty and generally struggling to cope with his grief. Jane Banks, following in her mother’s footsteps as an iconic feminist and socialist hero, finds herself in a collection of excellent outfits supporting a great political cause. And the three children find themselves lost in the local park as the wind blows a gale. This is when our hero Mary Poppins arrives on the scene, case and umbrella in hand, floating down with the help of a lost paper kite. It’s these kind of knowing nods to the original that are littered throughout the story that allow you to slip into a state of childhood bliss.
Emily Blunt absolutely glows in her interpretation of the iconic nanny, similar enough to Julie Andrews’ award-winning performance to be recognisable as the same character, but unique enough to assuredly stand as her own version. Blunt’s Poppins is flirty and funny, with a slight element of macabre about her. We see her character come to life in the first real showstopper of the film, ‘Can You Imagine That?’, where the children take an unbelievable oceanic bath. From here on in it’s clear that the film is cleverly mirroring the mood and outline of the 1964 version. A trip into an enchanting animated pot clearly references the wonder of ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. This scene and song leads onto my personal favourite song of the whole soundtrack, and what is surely a stand-out for everyone: ‘A Cover Is Not The Book’. Blunt, along with her lamp-lighter friend Jack (clearly the modern version of Bert, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda) take on an all-singing, all-dancing, music hall inspired number, with a cockney accent and Edwardian dance-hall ensemble to boot.
Other songs and plot points (practically) perfectly pay homage to the original, with Meryl Streep’s appearance as a topsy-turvy cousin much improving on ‘I Love To Laugh’, ‘Nowhere To Go But Up’ mirroring the spirit of ‘Feed The Birds’ and ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’ and the absolute masterpiece that is ‘Tripping The Light Fantastic’ reflecting ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ and ‘Step in Time’, with the celebratory attitude of and towards London’s working-class men shining from the screen. Each character is fully rounded, with just enough whimsy to avoid any real peril and keep you captured in the wonder of the story. The costumes are all expertly crafted and the plot ticks forward with the help of sound performances from the entire cast, including beloved British stars like Colin Firth, Ben Whishaw and Julie Walters.
Since I saw the film almost two weeks ago there hasn’t been a single day where I haven’t listened to the soundtrack and silently smiled to myself (maybe because I like to imagine myself as an Edwardian socialist super nanny – just me?). The return to the universe of Mary Poppins is a much-needed spoonful of sugar and you’d be a fool not to see it.