In the run-up to Christmas, I was very taken by the Sky Movies TV ad showing a mum and her daughter watching “The Sound Of Music” over and over again through the years. For me, it perfectly captured the sentimental sweet spot of Christmas, family and the magic of movies. I found myself wondering what our family’s equivalent film would be and whether we’d even be able to narrow it down to a single movie. In “The Greatest Showman”, I found my answer.
In early 19th Century America, young Phineas Taylor Barnum is the son of a struggling tailor. When his father dies, Barnum finds himself homeless and on the streets but manages through pluck and entrepreneurial spirit to make something of himself, later marrying his childhood sweetheart, the daughter of one his father’s wealthy clients. Haunted by his humble origins and determined to prove his worth, he decides to pursue his dream of a life in show business.
While based on real-life historical events and individuals, this is no biopic. It’s a romantic, fantasy musical based loosely on the life of P T Barnum and criticisms that it somehow deliberately and irresponsibly downplays or ignores the more unsavoury or darker side of Barnum’s life and nature miss the point entirely. This is a cinematic fantasia, a dizzyingly feel-good variation on the theatrical show business chicanery Barnum advocated to deliver a heartfelt and defiantly emotional hymn to diversity, confidence, dignity and kindness. Just because it’s not 100% authentic, it doesn’t make the points it makes about social and economic prejudice any less pertinent or poignant.
Jackman’s passion for the project is clear and his onscreen magnetism enthuses and electrifies the rest of the cast, taking their already great talents even higher. The songs, by “La La Land” lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul working with composers John Debney and Joseph Trapanese, are a winning blend of yearning ballads and infectiously stomp-and-clap-along show stoppers. If you’re not Spotifying the soundtrack the moment you exit the cinema, I’ll be very surprised.
“The Greatest Showman” offers a family friendly beacon of warmth and light to gather round and bask in and with a PG rating, I was excited to take the entire Craggus brood to see it. Mertmas was mesmerised by it while Mrs Craggus and I were often beset by big fat tears running down our cheeks but we’re suckers for sentimentality and the film’s themes played right to our hearts’ galleries.
The littlest Craggling though, at 4¾, was uncharacteristically subdued. Initially delighted by the bearded lady (Keala Settle), she settled into seeming contentment with the razzle-dazzle onscreen until, about two-thirds of the way through though, without fuss, she quietly climbed on to her mum’s lap and snuggled in. I just assumed the film – our first non-child-centric family film outing – had proved a little too long or unengaging for her. But when the film ended and the credits rolled, so did the tears down her cheeks. In between great big sobs, she explained she was crying because she ‘loved it so much!’
That’s when I knew we’d found our ‘Sky movie’. That’s when I knew “The Greatest Showman” was something very special indeed.