The trailer for this looked really fabulous so I had very high hopes for it. Then the reviews started coming in, most of them with identical so-so opinions, thus my expectations drooped. Then I saw the film and............it was marvellous!
The story of P.T. Barnum, a name nearly everybody will know even if they have scant knowledge, as I had, of the truth behind his rise to celebrity through the 'invention' of the circus. Of course, we all accept that a film like this - even more especially since it's a musical - will play fast and loose with historical veracity, but once I got into the required mindset I thoroughly enjoyed the experience - and was quite overawed that it was young Aussie director's (Michael Gracey) very first full-length feature film - whom I suspect may have had generous helpful suggestions from his friend, the likewise Aussie main star.
Despite it being an 'original' true story, you can predict the trajectory that Barnum's (Hugh Jackman) fortunes will take, with all the usual ups and down, difficulties, successes and disaster - with a final flourish of a phoenix-like rising from the ashes (literally!).
Reviewers have said that the songs are indifferent and forgettable. I thought they were better than that - particularly the two or three upbeat numbers, infectiously toe-tapping stuff with precision-like and spectacular choreography very much in the pop video mould, but not at all worse for being that. I wasn't alone in the audience in being quite transported by the visual and aural spectacle of it all, with Jackman at the centre of several of the set pieces, showing off (as though we didn't already know) that he can sing, dance and move with aplomb and dexterity, like the very best of them.
At the film's close it was one of those occasions when the audience applauded - and I dare say that many of them there had not realised that they were about to be subjected to that medium, so derided by some, of being a musical! (Credit due to song-composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul).
The drama of this mid-19th century, New York story, after a brief, flashbacked childhood experience, starts with the jobless and impecunious Barnum's marriage to the daughter (Michelle Williams) of disapproving, wealthy parents, when he has his brainwave of a show of what are, in effect, human 'freaks', he only getting financial backing for his plan by straight deceit. Now parents of two little girls, his wife, rather than offering unqualified support to him, holds back on her reservations as long as his venture brings in the money. He acquires a capable assistant - Zac Efron (also hoofing nimbly and singing ably) - but whose attraction to another young lady in the troupe brings displeasure down on him from his own parents. Then more fraught episodes take place with opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), the 'Swedish Nightingale', vastly famous in Europe whom, on a visit to London to perform for a youngish Queen Victoria, Barnum decides to take back to introduce her to American audiences, which he does with great success. Mrs Barnum, not best pleased with the development of his new 'acquaintanceship', has her suspicions.......
The energy and interest in the film kept me absorbed almost throughout. Only once did my attention come anywhere near to flagging - in the song of the Bearded Lady - but that was exceptional.
Beforehand I'd had slight reservations about whether we were going to be shown performing animals, but they really only properly appear in the lavish final routine, and even then they are hardly 'performing' as such, being more background-like figures - and furthermore I wouldn't be at all surprised to be told that they were all CGI creations anyway.
This was a goodie to end the year on. I can't agree with most of the reviews I've seen who are so forward with their 'so what?' indifference to it. I liked it much more. And it's a pity that, in error, I posted my Top 10 of the year before I saw it. When compiling my favourites I'd made the rash assumption that this wouldn't feature in it. Okay, it may not have actually made it into my ultimate ten choices, but I think it would have been on the shortlist as a real possible. I'm not going back to change things now - it's not that make-or-break anyway. (Or is it?) Suffice to say that in my books 'The Greatest Showman' rates a solid.............8.
2 minutes ago