FEW FILMS ARE so embedded in the minds of pretty much all of us as Mary Poppins. Just saying the title immediately conjures up a nanny floating to earth under an umbrella, spoonfuls of sugar helping medicine go down and dancing chimney sweeps with dodgy cockney accents (and to think there was once a time when the world had never heard the word “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”).
In Practically Perfect, the comedian and actor Katy Brand gives us the full story of how the film was made—not much to the liking of PL Travers, the author of the original book. She provides plenty of thoughtful analysis of the final result. “Is Mary Poppins a story about a nanny or a witch?” she asks at one point: a trickier question than it sounds. At another, she suggests an unexpected parallel with classic westerns, where a mysterious stranger rides into town, cleans it up and leaves again.
But the book also makes a strong case that Mary Poppins has some important lessons to teach us— perhaps even more now than when it was released in 1964. Rather than vowing to get things done, for instance, Mary does them. She’s impressively free of any eagerness to please. She’d be entirely scornful of the current fashion for being “best friends” with your children rather than giving them the boundaries they need (and secretly want). The book spares a chapter-length thought, too, for Mr Banks—father of Mary’s charges Jane and Michael—who comes to realise the price he’s paid for trying to live up to traditional expectations of manliness.
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