Julie Andrews, denied the role of Eliza in "My Fair Lady", in spite of originating it in the Broadway musical, had the satisfaction of winning the Best Actress Academy Award for "Mary Poppins", while Audrey Hepburn, her "My Fair Lady" replacement, was not even nominated. But then, Disney had done a magnificent job of adapting the PL Travers character to the screen, using cinematic effects to the full in creating an enchanting story.
Into a 1910 London setting (that could only exist in the imagination of Hollywood) comes the new governess, Mary Poppins, for two boisterous children of a banker (David Tomlinson) and his suffragette wife (Glynis Johns). That this Nanny is unusual is obvious from the start: she arrives by floating through the air, using her brolly as a parachute. In no time the children are sorted out and taken off on adventurous outings, including meeting her amazing friend Bert (Dick Van Dyke), a besooted chimney sweep who speaks a form of Cockney unknown within five thousand miles of Bow Bells. The household descends into chaos, but Mary will eventually see that order is restored.
The film exerts a formidable charm and is technically very accomplished. In a magical sequence, Mary, Bert, and the children wander through an animated landscape filled with cartoon deer, rabbits, and even penguins. The songs, by the Sherman brothers, Richard and Robert, are among their best, and include "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", the Oscar-winning "Chim Chim Cheree", and "A Spoonful of Sugar", all of which are carefully integrated with the plot so that the film flows smoothly.
Mary Poppins continues to delight young generations, while for the older ones there is much pleasure from the casting of screen veterans such as Hermione Baddeley, Arthur Treacher, Elsa Lanchester, Reginald Owen, Ed Wynn, and Jane Darwell in minor roles.
"Mary Poppins" is on BBC1, Monday 1 January 2001 at 1.30pm.
Read a review of the "Mary Poppins" DVD.