Since early December 2017, you couldn’t escape the empowering anthem, This Is Me from the soundtrack to 2017’s, The Greatest Showman. From radio stations to supermarkets, the song was inescapable, as was other forms of marketing for the upcoming film release. And after initially passing it off as another desperate Oscar baiting film, I sat down at the start of 2018, and was immediately enthralled with the toe tapping songs and sublime cinematography, just like many fans of the film did. But that’s not to say this is the perfect film. If you’re looking for a 100% accurate retelling of P.T. Barnum’s (Hugh Jackman) life, you may not find this as enjoyable.
Throughout the film, Barnum is often written in a way that doesn’t justify why he starts what many people of the time would call “a freak show”, but it instead gives you an insight into why Barnum sees this as a good idea. Lines like “they’re already laughing kid, might as well get paid for it” can makes sense to some people, and back then, it could’ve been seen as justification. We also have to appreciate that while doing something like this in 2018 would be morally wrong, back when Barnum started the circus, it was socially acceptable to go to a show like this, and laugh at the “oddities” on display.
There’s also the two romantic subplots that didn’t really happen. There’s the added romantic tension between Barnum and Jenny Lind, (Rebecca Ferguson) which was the only narrative element that I didn’t care for. There wasn’t a big impact on the plot apart from one argument with Barnum’s wife, Charity. (Michelle Williams) It also felt like it was forced in for a contrived attempt at drama. The other romantic subplot between Zac Efron’s Phillip Carlyle, and Zendaya’s Anne Wheeler. This one had much better chemistry and tension between the fictional couple, primarily because of the prejudice of the time period. Efron and Zendaya create a real sense of restricted love, where the characters are desperate to be together, but feel restrained by the world around them. Highlights include their tender interaction at Lind’s opening night, and the big expression of their love, and the chains that hold them back during Rewrite The Stars.
But forgetting all the historical inaccuracies for just a moment, the film still others a lot for the modern audience to enjoy. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is beautifully handled, with sharp and clear use of colour through each frame of the film. From the silhouettes of Barnum at the start, to the shots of yesteryear America, as Barnum and Charity start their lives together, each image comes alive with beautiful imagery. But it never takes away from the first class performances by the entire cast, with a particular highlight coming from Keala Settle as Lettie, (The Bearded Lady) who stole the show whenever she took the spotlight. She’ll make you laugh and cry at each perfect point.
And when it comes to the songs, it’s some of the best examples of film songs in recent memory. With the minds behind City Of Stars from 2016’s La La Land responsible for all the lyrics this time, each song fills the listener with empowering messages and thrilling imagery, while bringing the film to life in a whole other way. Just like the opening to La La Land, many audience members will be won over by the end of the first song!
So, is The Greatest Showman the most accurate telling of Barnum’s life, not by any stretch of the imagination, but if you can look past that, and be sucked into this interpretation of history, then many are bound to be enthralled with the show stopping tunes, fantastic performances across the board, and some stellar imagery. Having spoken to many viewers of the film, it’s done exactly that to them, with some saying they’ve felt the urge to join in the songs every-time they heard them. All I can say is, no wonder it did so well. Musical fans, you’ll love it! Historians… maybe look somewhere else.
4.5 Stars Out Of 5