Film Review: The Greatest Showman

Tuesday 23 January 2018 by

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into The Greatest Showman except I knew Hugh Jackman was in it as PT Barnum and he sings. I am in favour of these things. The music was much more contemporary than I was expecting for a period musical but immensely enjoyable (I bought the soundtrack on iTunes during the closing credits). It also added to the overall sense of unreality that the film as a whole embodies, and the sense of warm-hearted happiness it leaves you with.

It opens with Barnum at the centre of his famous circus before flashing back to his childhood as a tailor’s son, and the rich man’s daughter he is a (forbidden) friend to. So of course when they grow up she leaves it all behind to marry him. He then feels guilty about not being able to give her the sort of life they dreamed of until their daughters inspire him to follow his dreams and start what eventually evolves into the circus.

While I’d mostly heard positive things about the film before seeing it, I had seen a few comments criticising how it romanticises the ‘side show.’ And those comments are entirely valid. But in the setting of this film, a musical that plays to the art and artifice of both its genre and its subject, I didn’t find it problematic in the way it would be in a straight biopic that had claims on historical accuracy.

The film particularly sparkles in the musical numbers and often felt like I was watching the recording of a stage performance instead of something made for the cinema, bringing a sense of intimacy that a cast of thousands would have destroyed. At the same time the cinematography presented frequent visual delights, it’s quite simply beautifully filmed. Even as simple an action as dropping bolts of fabric was done in such a way as to create a beautiful image.

Choreography was another area in which the film excels. Jackman’s duet with Zac Ephron, and the bartender in the background, is a perfect example of how complex movement is married to the music, frequently in a sharp and angular style.

Overall the film is a brightly coloured spectacle, shiny songs, charismatic performances, and, yes, a bit of humbug. And I couldn’t be more pleased with it; I went for entertainment, not honesty.

The Greatest Showman is in cinemas now

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson

Director: Michael Gracey

Writers: Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon

Songs: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

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