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03 July 2007 @ 11:29 am
Who is Mr Banks?  
Mr Banks is our topic for discussion in July so now is the time to say anything you may have on your mind about the man.

Below are a few thoughts of mine to start the ponderings.

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I want to have a discussion about Mr Banks, his character and his emotional journey and how it is the stage version where this all comes together in a truly moving story arc. I do actually think that this is the one thing Disney was able to 'give' to the story and characters as opposed to destroy. In the books Mr Banks is a very sweet, slightly bumbling, dreamer of a man who loves the stars. There is something rounded and soft and cuddly about him and he genuinely loves his children. He is the only person in the books (aside from Mary's friends and relatives who know) who almost sees what Mary is, like something he catches out of the corner of his eye and is gone when he looks directly at it. He also had a truly terrible nanny, Miss Andrew, who is really a topic in herself. And before anyone protests the name, Travers created this character when Julie was a baby and the part of the idea was to have a neat symmetry with Miss Lark. In the first book there is a chapter called Miss Lark's Andrew, yes about the dog, in the second book there is a chapter Miss Andrew's Lark. The character Miss Andrew has nothing to do with Julie. At all.

Compare this to the man you know from the film, they are quite different people. He manages to make the transformative journey but it's a bit clunky. I don't think in the film we get any real sense of what he might have been like prior to the film, other than more of the same. He's not a very loveable character and when he finally wants to fly kites at the end it's all a bit manic and a very sudden shift of character in a man gone slightly off his rails. He doesn't seem like the sort of man who will keep the 'new him' after all, he ends with taking a new, higher position at work.

Now for the stage version where these two creations are blended beautifully to create a man having his own private tragedy. Mr Banks starts as that wonderful dreamer when he's a little boy and Miss Andrew is largely to blame for the sort of man he becomes. In his own words 'I used to love astronomy when I was little boy, but my nanny, Miss Andrew, soon beat it out of me.' It becomes clear throughout the story that he barely saw his parents and this draconian, bulling nanny had sole charge of him. Which was entirely common at the time, nannies preferred parents who didn't interfere, though Mr Banks' parents seem even more detached than normal. He only sees his parents about once a week when the usual practise was an hour after tea in the afternoon or early evening each day. At any rate she terrorised him as a boy and clearly created in him a need for precision and order and keeping up appearances, for not showing any sort of affection to anyone and keeping himself to himself. This was the model he was raised to conform to so it's no wonder he tries to live up to it as an adult, even though it goes against his essential nature. A nature which he passed on to Michael but is similarly trying to remove from the boy. Now, we know from one of Mrs Banks' lines that he probably went through a phase of really being himself once he was free of parental and Miss Andrew's control but that he took up the behavioural pattern once he was married with children. She says of him, wanting to remember the way he was when they first met, 'Being kissed by you, a man of dreams who made me feel that wishes could come true' and she knows how he could be and wants to help him find that in himself again. Mrs Banks does indeed make her own emotional journey in the story, learning to find her own self-confidence again and the courage to be herself. What this means for Mr Banks is that he comes to realise he can be the father to his children that he wishes he had, Michael can be the little boy he wasn't allowed to be, and he can absolutely love his wife. His realisation when he is summoned to the bank, where he thinks he is about to be sacked, is that 'there are more important things than making money' and he means his family. He arrives at this point through a brush when Miss Andrew briefly returns; showing Mrs Banks what his childhood must actually have been like. That in itself is a good thing, Mrs Banks provides unstinting, though largely unwanted, support for her husband throughout, where he is mostly concerned with her keeping up an appearance of respectability to a higher class. Once she sees what Miss Andrew was like she has a better idea of what Mr Banks needs from her, she can provide the love and support he never had growing up. When he is more concerned with losing their social position if he loses his job she points out that no matter what happens they'll 'still have what really matters, the children, and each other.' It is exactly the right response to give him because the idea that she loves him for him and not for any material concern gives him courage to face up to the bank chairman later on. And the children do much the same thing, giving him the sixpence they were given on their visit to the bank. They were told to spend them carefully when the gift was made with the advice that 'the value of money lies not in itself, but in your choice of what to do with it' the fact that the most valuable thing they can do with the money is to give it to their father speaks worlds. Mary Poppins directly contributes only slightly to this chain of events, preferring to, indeed, put ideas into everyone else’s heads and then observe to make sure they act on them. Her most significant gestures are in making Mr Banks remember what he wanted his childhood to be, leaving Michael's kite where he will find it, causing the breaking of the vase that reveals the gingerbread stars. He had hidden the gingerbread stars from Miss Andrew, they were a reminder that he could break free from the oppression she had placed on his life and be his own man. He does. When Mr Banks is offered the promotion (not only does Mrs Banks burst in in defence of her husband, she then arranges a much greater increase in his salary) he accepts 'on one condition, my family must come first.' Mr Banks of the books knows this already. Mr Banks of the film would never say it. It is also important to note that the process or whether or not Mr Banks will lose his job is more drawn out in the stage version, he is suspended without salary for some weeks before the revelatory meeting so the impact of the situation is a bit stronger for the characters, and they muddle through the unhappiness without Mary Poppins, who has decided 'they must do the next bit on their own.' She only returns to orchestrate the resolution once they have learned their lessons, and part of the point is they've learned to manage without her, she simply makes them use what she has taught.

There is a lot more that I could say about Mr Banks but I think you get the idea. He has the core emotional journey with over-arcs everything else and gives the storyline cohesion. We owe the stage version of him, rather equally, to the books and the film and it is combined that they create a deeply interesting man who has his own little tragedy and redemption, the tone of which is quite outside the scope of the rest of the action. I'm not sure if what I've said gives anyone some real insight to the man or any real conclusions, but there you have it, a babble on Mr Banks. There is more in the books on that and I'd need to poke through them again to really discuss it in any detail but I will if anyone is actually interested.