Ladies and gents, this is the Hugh Jackman musical moment you’ve waited for…
An alternative take on the Barnum story, in a musical with that lovely Hugh Jackman.
The Greatest Showman | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX, 20th Century Fox and photos © 20th Century Fox
The Greatest Showman (2017) is not as Darlin Husband riffed. As an X-Men film spin-off with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine rounding up his fellow freakishly endowed X-Men buddies to avenge Magneto and his pals. But it could be!
This film instead looks at P. T. Barnum’s life story by focusing on him primarily as the founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Also on his role as a promoter of cons and human curiosities. These people at one time considered not people but “freaks”. This covering those much taller than the average person, Siamese twins, bearded ladies or little people.
This film looks at the love story of his private life with his childhood sweetheart and later wife, Charity Hallett. This is a feel-good, heartwarming, glossy musical with Hugh Jackman as Barnum.
In 1875, the non-film version of P. T. Barnum was famed as a man who was a slave owner but promoted the abolition of slavery. A man who was passionate about making the theatre accessible to families. This with plays based on classics including Shakespeare and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, while showing “blackface” shows using stereotyped characters and skits.
Barnum also was less known as a Connecticut mayor advocating for prostitution and alcohol laws, for founding the Bridgeport Hospital, improving the water supply and adding gas lighting to the streets. History lovers, The Greatest Showman is not that biopic.
As a teen in the 1980s, I’d seen this character before at the theatre, in the smash-hit London West End musical. This title Barnum and starring British comedy actor, Michael Crawford donning his best American accent. It was the first (but not the last) time I’d seen a famous telly person live so I was super excited. That is unless you include those Scottish celebrities from Christmas pantos. More of my memories of Crawford are HERE.
Back to the review… there can be little comparison of these two versions of his biopics, with distinctly different performances and intended audiences, plot lines and budgets. Now on with the show… let the music start…
Here Jackman is the perfect actor for The Greatest Showman, his explosive presence making his leading role as Barnum a loveable and engaging character. This from the start of this biopic movie. This even though his character did irritate me in one plotline (which it turned out was based on bollocks anyway). Barnum seen literally, theatrically and figuratively as a man in the shadows at the start of the film.
As we see Jackman as Barnum as he emerges into the spotlight with his circus troupe behind him. This scene played similar to the plot with the film looking at the rise and fall then the re-emergence of this man. His story told in both myth and legend. But despite this, we know and feel this will be an engaging performance – as it always is with Jackman – even if the plot is loosely based on fact.
The film takes us then by a flashback to Barnum’s childhood and humble beginnings. His father Philo – a poor tailor – selling materials selling to the rich, Mr Hallett (Fredric Lehne), as the young Barnum accompanies him. While the adults talk business, Barnum kinda shows he has a bit of a soft spot for Hallett’s daughter Charity.
This as he attracts her attention doing a wee magic trick, while she drinks – then spills – her afternoon tea. Her laughter and a tea-stained ruined frock annoy her father, blaming and slapping Barnum. Barnum swears they won’t be parted and this leading to a song, A Million Dreams.
The two children bond, write letters (with the replies not withheld from her by a parent, The Notebook (2004) style) as she’s sent away to Finishing School. In a sweet montage, they then grow up to be the photogenic Michelle Williams (Charity) and Hugh Jackman (Barnum).
Charity’s father disowning her as the two inevitably tell him they are in love and then marry. This marriage against the wishes of her disapproving father. Still poor and penniless Charity is happy, but Barnum wants more for them giving her the life he thinks she wants. This starting with their mutual childhood dream house (as definitely seen in The Notebook).
Barnum is laid off from his dull job at a shipping company. He scams his way into getting a bank loan. He’s now happily ensconced with a loved up and supportive marriage with Charity. The pair a doting father and mother now to two angelic daughters, cue more singing and dancing. Barnum then decides on a way to make them rich. He hopes to make the family’s individual wishes come true.
He opens Barnum’s American Museum with a bank loan. But it’s a failure. Then he makes it more interesting by adding live exhibits. For this, he starts by employing a little person, Tom Thumb who he dresses up as Napoleon. Then he employs a bearded lady. and he holds auditions for new “freaks” to work with him. He takes on a business partner in the rich Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron). Cue more musical numbers.
Carlyle falls for one of the troupe, a trapeze artist, Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), with their (made for the film) romance from their different social classes providing more romance. After Barnum’s Circus becomes a success, Barnum and Carlyle meet the incredibly pretty Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson).
Lind was seen as a homewrecker as she makes big eyes at Barnum. This portrayal of Lind is not based on fact (and not remembered in the Crawford version or it went over my even smaller head). But regardless it led me to shout “No! Jackman No!” at the telly. Darlin Husband however swears he sees pound signs in his eyes. I saw lust, you decide.
With Jenny by his side, this increasing his social standing and in turn entering a higher social status. However, he shuts his circus colleagues out literally from his rich friends. This leading to more song and dance. Barnum goes on tour with Lind around America leaving his family and the circus in Carlyle’s capable hands.
As Barnum rakes in the cash, a fire engulfs Barnum’s Circus, leaving Carlyle critically injured. Meanwhile in America Lind makes it plain she’s attracted to Barnum, Barnum rebuffs her advances. Barnum leaves this promotional tour soon after. His rebuff pisses her off (yay, sorry but really didn’t like this “Lind” that much).
In her final performance, Lind gives him a passionate (one-sided) kiss on stage. A photo of this act given nationwide press coverage is inevitably seen by Mrs Barnum, who promptly packs her and her daughters’ bags.. leading to a white elephant of an ending.
My thoughts on this film… Jackman is exuberant, charismatic and spellbinding, with his enthusiastically played performance. I’ve not seen him do a musical before – having avoided his Les Misérables (2012) stint (due to the presence of two actors I dislike) – but he certainly has the oomph factor.
He gives his all in his acting and song and dance numbers. He is not only a great actor, but here making his presence infectious in those song and dance numbers where I must admit he proved was much more than an actor, but a wonderful all-round performer.
Jackman gave a credible feel to those musical numbers, where you felt his character’s emotions in the lyrics. This Jackman performance felt more natural and less stagey like in some musicals I may check him out in that other musical role one day just for him. Jackman’s chemistry was fantastic with others in the cast, and he definitely looked the part. Donning the Ringmaster costume, he looked very much the lead as Barnum and he commanded the leading role.
The film however if you had to compare the Crawford version of his life events, has Crawford’s version more child friendly. The Jackman film seems more appealing for the incurable romantic than for kids and historians.
It may disappoint some, with some of the untrue romantic storylines added for no apparent reason (why??) but possibly to up the romance factor. The romance in the film in turn felt a tad contrived. It’s more for the romantics, who’ve sorely missed Jackman and Efron as romantic leads. This leading to a whimsical romantic ending for both characters, which most probably didn’t happen.
But if you accept the film portrayal of Barnum as the Greatest Showman rather than dwell on whether he was the greatest husband, then it’s a wonderful tribute to the man. This by looking at this showman and entertainer part of the storyline. This musical one with that wonderfully energetic and heartfelt performance from Jackman.
To sum up, the film should ideally come with this disclaimer at the credits, This film definitely not a load of humbug, but if you believe Lind was a scarlet woman in her trying to break up Barnum’s happy marriage, then there’s a sucker born every minute. A quote that Barnum is credited as saying. That’s if you believe that he did…
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Unexpected Blogathon, 2018 No 61 and The Always a Bridesmaid Blogathon 2019, No 61
This was written for the Taking Up Room‘s The Unexpected Blogathon and For Hollywood Genes’ Always A Bridesmaid Film Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Michelle Williams in Shutter Island. Hugh Jackman stars in The Prestige, Tourism Australia: Dundee – The Son of a Legend Returns Home and Eddie The Eagle.