This afternoon was the first (and only) time I’ve ever witnessed a cinema audience break into spontaneous applause at the end of the movie. Maybe I don’t go to the movies often enough to know that you’re supposed to clap. Maybe this is normal behaviour. Or maybe I wasn’t the only person to feel like I'd just had a ringside seat at the ‘greatest show on Earth’.
I knew my circus-mad kids would love 'The Greatest Showman', but what took me by surprise was how much I enjoyed it myself.
'The Greatest Showman' (starring Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams) is more than just a circus-themed musical. It is a beautiful family film, with subtextual depth and amazing aesthetics. The choreography is brilliant, and the story itself is unexpectedly touching. It is loosely based on the life of P.T Barnum, although many dramatic liberties are taken.
There are a few intense scenes, but nothing worse than what you might find in a typical Disney movie. My six year old was the only one not to tear up at some point. The impact of the movie is expressed through the emotions of the characters, an effective use of music and movement, and sensational visual spectacles.
I don’t want to spoil any plot points, but I will say that messages conveyed by the movie are overwhelmingly positive, and that the ending is uplifting. As it is set in the eighteen hundreds, there are elements of racism and classism, but it is clear from the reactions of the characters that the movie does not condone these attitudes.
Overly-cynical people beware - this movie is not for you.
If you need your fiction to be strictly historically accurate, or you have a problem with random elephants appearing out of nowhere, you might have trouble transporting your mind into the colourful world of Phineas Barnum and his eclectic crew of outcasts.
However, if you believe that dreams can shape your reality, and that love and happiness are the most important treasures you'll find in life, then you will love 'The Greatest Showman'.
The songs and circus performances were captivating, and I'm certain that most people left the theatre wanting to run away with the circus, or at the very least, follow their own preexisting dreams.
The character of Phineas Barnum was true to the real P.T Barnum, in that he was an imaginative man with a larger-than-life personality, and a tendency to succumb to his over-inflated ego. The way his character evolves in the movie is satisfying, and does mirror the changing attitudes of the real Barnum, albeit at a much younger age. The relationship between him and his wife, Charity (Michelle Williams), is actually really sweet, and emphasises unconditional support, and the importance of prioritising family over fame.
The portrayal of singer Jenny Lind is interestingly inaccurate, but it works well for the story. The characters played by Zac Efron and Zendaya are completely fictional, but the feelings and concepts they represent are real, and the movie wouldn't be the same without their stunning aerial/song routine.
From a 'historical accuracy' point of view, the movie is well off the mark, but it never claimed not to be. I think there is a danger that rewriting this particular history could leave the filmmakers open to accusations of glamourising the exploitation of vulnerable members of society. But this movie is aimed at a modern audience who can enjoy the fictionalised, empowering version of events, in a way they can relate to. And for the naysayers - there is a certain journalistic character in the movie who you might want to pay more attention to.
If anything, I think this story will inspire children who don't know anything about the history of circus to learn more about it. The movie never claims to be a documentary, nor is it presented as something intended to be taken literally. It is a movie which draws upon the inspirational aspects of a real situation, and weaves those elements into an emotional and entertaining story.
I know my kids are interested in learning more about the history of circus after having seen the movie, so the historical inaccuracies are actually an excellent springboard from which to dive into further research, and develop a deeper understanding.
If you are interested in learning about the far-less glamorous (but incredibly interesting) truth behind the curtain, there are countless books you can turn to, including P.T Barnum's own autobiography. However, if you want to be entertained, moved, and inspired, go and see the movie.
I am glad we saw 'The Greatest Showman' at the cinema, as I really don't think a smaller screen would have done this movie justice. The atmosphere created by the music alone was apparent from the opening scene, and stayed strong through to the end.
The Greatest Showman is an excellent family film, particularly for people who love circus and music. By the time the end credits rolled, members of the audience were clapping, singing along with the soundtrack, and feeling keen to follow their dreams.
If you haven't seen this movie yet, you're missing out on something special.
Nanci Nott is the author of 'Zany Circus: Paradox', a middle-grade adventure novel for children, time-travellers, and little green goblins. More importantly, Nanci Nott is known as 'Mum' to three circus-crazy kids, who enthusiastically recommend you see 'The Greatest Showman' before it leaves the big screen.