Review of 'The Greatest Showman'

A big screen, all singing, all dancing musical telling the story of the circus legend P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman).

Starting with Barnum's troubled childhood we see his desire to entertain from a young age despite coming from a poor background. Barnum later marries Charity (Michelle Williams) and they have two children who have tremendous imagination with their father's entertaining nature. With the difficult economic times the company Barnum works for closes down so he is forced to find an income. Using the deeds to sunken ships taken from his former job as loan collateral Barnum opens a “Museum of Oddities” which fails to attract a crowd. After an encounter with some of the forgotten of society - Misfits and physically unique individuals he hits on the idea of opening a show where they feature. Though initially a failure (and continually harassed by less accepting members of society) after Barnum introduces music and dance numbers featuring his troupe the circus begins to take off in popularity and the money starts rolling in. At the height of his success he takes his show to London to visit Queen Victoria and becomes fascinated by European opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) who he convinces to tour in the United States. When a misunderstanding ends in the tour being prematurely cut short he is left in financial ruin and rejecting the misfits he originally befriended for his show. Will the master of ingenuity manage to find his way again?

Even as the company credits start we are introduced into the modern and vibrant music of “The Greatest Showman”. Barnum has been seen as a somewhat controversial character including his use of animals in his shows and personal life but that is set aside here with a light and fun film choosing instead to concentrate on the power of the human spirit and, of course, love. Even so some later scenes where animals feature in the show will likely jar with many modern audiences though I was able to largely set these aside given that they appear to be largely all computer generated. There are touches here of the impact he made on the society around him such as intolerant protesters but these are treated largely as the “big bad villains” of the piece - This is a story of blacks and whites, with very little in the way of greys (except, perhaps for Barnum himself).

Following on from his success in the film adaptation of the musical “Les Misérables”, Jackman is once again tremendous here, bringing an incredible amount of energy and vitality as he often literally throws himself into the many musical numbers. When the songs stop, his handling of the more complex emotional aspects of the film is both sensitive and believable despite the somewhat one-dimensional and generally naive character. Williams as Charity is left generally in the background following the initial years of her relationship with Barnum making only a fleeting return to help restore his mojo near the end of the film. The members of the troupe are all fairly simply dealt with as well…Though this is a musical so we should not be expecting deep characterisation.

A relatively simple story, with some great songs that I remembered in the days that followed the screening, “The Greatest Showman” is a fun film as long as you set aside some of the obvious darker aspects of Barnum. Sit back and enjoy the show.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2018-04-23

Directed by: Michael Gracey

Studio: Chernin Entertainment

Year: 2017

Length: 105 minutes

Genre: Musical