Film Review: The Greatest Showman (5/5)
This story, built loosely around the life of circus impresario PT Barnum, could have been a two-hour song and dance routine to showcase the talents of Hugh Jackman whose own place in musical theatre is well-established.
It is much more than that, a movie that springs surprises in keeping with the eye-popping stream of attractions around which Barnum drew his audience.
The story borrows from Barnum’s place in showbusiness history without ever resembling a true-to-life biopic. Instead we get a good old-fashioned romp that entertains from first to last.
What it lacks in historical accuracy it makes up for in sheer energy, a rousing score and visual delight that makes it a strong contender for this year’s movie honours. Given Barnum’s reputation for faking it, then surely he would have approved of this re-telling of his story.
Jackman plays the title character in what is effectively a rags-to-riches tale of a poor orphaned boy who lives out his dreams of theatrical greatness and marrying the girl (Michelle Williams) he knew from boyhood.
On the way, our ‘imagined’, pumped-up Barnum builds a business built on a nineteenth century fascination with those termed ‘freaks’ who make up his circus entertainers. The script turns this outmoded prurience into a modern mission to bring equality of opportunity to those born with unusual personal attributes. Whatever the killjoys say about the lack of factual detail, Jackman said of Barnum that “his belief was what makes you different makes you special”.
Okay, it turns the real Barnum, an exploitative profiteer, into a 21st century matinee idol, but no one watching this mix of Broadway pomp, festival of oddities and beat-driven dance songs could be fooled into thinking this was anything but a confection designed to entertain in a style that Barnum would have encouraged.
There are some superbly choreographed routines, with the best arguably involving Jackman and playwright Phillip Carlyle played by Zac Efron as they seal their business partnership in a bar room double act. Efron again showcases his agility in a gorgeous airborne sequence with love interest and circus trapeze artist Anne Wheeler played by Zendaya.
As a fast-paced movie in keeping with the thrills of the big top, it also throws up constant new delights. Rebecca Ferguson, playing the singer Jenny Lind who captivates Barnum, admitted in an interview that she was extremely nervous when she had to sing in front of a full audience as well as the crew. She needn’t have been so worried as her performance is a beautiful moment.
The Greatest Showman is made in the modern tradition of Moulin Rouge and La La Land and the latter’s lyric-writing team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are reunited to compose the numbers in this latest production that make you want to stand up and stomp along.
Already nominated for three Golden Globes, The Greatest Showman must be destined for a few Oscars for the score, costume, choreography, cinematography and even best film. Totally brilliant.
The Greatest Showman (PG) 1hr 45 mins