Over the last month or so we’ve watched Mary Poppins, the 1964 film, quite a few times as we prepped Wordgirl for the play. (Once to prep her; the next dozen times at the kids’ request.) I probably didn’t think twice about Winifred Banks (Glynis Johns) before, but I’ve become keenly aware of her this time around. In the film she is a suffragette, leading protests for the right to vote for women, and that seems to be why she doesn’t have time to take care of her children. She’s so busy with her cause, her children are neglected and running amok. While she is a fun character, and it is not a particularly negative portrayal, the subtext is pretty clear. She should be taking care of her own children–not out ensuring that her daughter will have the right to vote. There is a line in her song “Sister Suffragette” that haunts me, “Our daughters daughters will adore us as they sing in grateful chorus, ‘well done, sister suffragettes.'” I’m not sure we do.
The stage musical re-writes the character. Winifred was an actress who married George Banks and is trying desperately to fit in to his social set. There is a heartbreaking scene where she is snubbed by all of his people’s wives. She is wholly sympathetic and Mary Poppins seems to be as much there for her and George as for the children. By the end of the play she has gained confidence in herself and decides they don’t need a nanny because she realizes she can raise her children herself. It’s a good character.
Wordgirl was telling me this afternoon as we listened to “Sister Suffragette” in the car on the way home from school that her favorite character after Mary and the children in the movie is the mom, but she likes the mom in the play even more.
I, too, like the change, I think, but, I don’t know, there’s something that nettles me about it. We don’t have so many portrayals of suffragettes right now. Maybe we should. But maybe not with the subtext above. Also, Glynis Johns’ film character is exuberant if nothing else. She’s fun. It’s obvious that when she is with her children, they have fun together. The new Mrs. Banks is more thoughtful, more serious, more wistful. She’s a more “motherly” mother. I may relate to those qualities, but I enjoy the exuberance of the film.