Exclusive Interview: Kelly Marcel on Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr Banks

I've gone on record now: I don't like Saving Mr. Banks. It's a finely structured film, the performances are grand, but the liberties it takes with history, and the ways that it reduces the significance of P.L. Travers' contributions to her own fictional and real-life stories, offend me. But that's me. Practically everyone else seems to love it.

So I was particularly happy to be able to talk to screenwriter Kelly Marcel, whose script for Saving Mr. Banks made the illustrious Black List, bringing it to the attention of Walt Disney Studios and getting the film, ultimately, produced. I didn't have as much time with her as I liked, but I was able to discuss my issues with the ending of her script in particular, and hear her side of the story. She has her reasons for changing the ending. Whether or not they justify 

CraveOnline: This was on The Black List originally…

Kelly Marcel: This was. This film would not have got made without the Black List.

So this was written on spec.

Pretty much.

Meaning it could only be made at Disney and you know had no idea if they’d be willing to make it.

Yeah, and Disney had nothing to do with it while I was writing it. It was a commission from Alison Owen but British film works very differently to American film. You go and write for free […] So essentially yes, it was a spec, and it went on The Black List the same year that I had written it, and I love Franklin [Leonard], actually, because I think The Black List is an incredible thing and really, it’s a lot down to him that my film got made.

Does that make you a celebrity in the screenwriting world? Like, “Oh my god, Kelly Marcel is on The Black List.” “Did you hear about Kelly Marcel?” “Oh my god, it’s Kelly Marcel!”

It makes the script a celebrity. It makes the script a celebrity. It gave it an enormous amount of attention. Saving Mr. Banks was being talked about all over town, and I think that’s what happens. I think four out of the last five screenplay Oscar wins were all Black List scripts. Franklin will be able to tell you. So it makes the film a celebrity. Certainly not me. No one goes, “Oh my god! Are you Kelly Marcel?!”

Well, I will now. Now I know what you look like.

Unless you’re at the Austin Film Festival, which was bizarre.

They were all over you there.


No kidding?

It was so weird!

Were they like crazy Elvis fans going, “Sign my breasts?” What was going on with the fandom?

Well, my gang in Austin were John August and Craig Mazin and Rian Johnson. We all sort of hung out together. Do you know John August and Craig? Have you seen them?

I’ve seen them.

But you know what they look like?


Girls… screaming… at Craig. Like, screaming at him and giving him their room keys! I was like, “You have got to be joking. You’ve got to be joking.” It’s just for that five days, at that festival, those guys are rock stars. They’re absolutely rock stars. And then we all come back to our normal little lives and are boring again. [Laughs]

It’s a wonderfully structured script.

Thank you.

But I come at it from a different angle than most, because I never cared for the Disney film. I was a fan of the books.

Right. Right! That’s really interesting.

The Disney film is a very different beast.

It is.

It’s a good film in its own right, but it’s a very different beast. And I always sided with P.L. Travers on this debate, and I was under the impression that after the premiere she didn’t like it.

No, she didn’t. So when she’s crying at the end of this film, it’s me that’s taken artistic license and saying it’s a catharsis. In reality… You know, what I can’t do is change history, and it’s very well documented that she cried throughout the premiere because she hated it. She hated it. She went up to Disney after the premiere and said, “It’s awful, we’ve got to change everything. You’re going right back to the drawing board.” He said, “Pamela, that ship has sailed.”

Right. But you changed that.

I can’t end the movie like that!