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The Greatest Showman... Did You See It?


I expect most people (with the exception of my brother) have seen The Greatest Showman. With this in mind, I will lay out the basic story and explore one specific scene which, in my mind, is a superb piece of cinema.

I would argue that this is one of the best “original” musicals created in Cinema history. Hugh Jackman portrays P.T. Barnum, the man who built what might just have been the biggest circus of all time, as he navigates his marriage, his explosive and untamed ambition, and the class division in America at that time.

From being the son of a tailor just making ends meet to one of the most well-known names in the developed Victorian world, Barnum risks everything he built just to be accepted by “the high brows” and to settle his feud with his father-in-law, and nearly sees it all collapse (part of it literally) before him.

"The Other Side" - Probably the best choreographed number

The songs within the film are upbeat, emotional, and relatable. I feel the writers did a particularly magnificent job making the songs (and the film) not just reflect the issues between the characters but reflected on the social opinions of the day superbly subtly. We do have a habit in cinema (and most media, to be fair) of putting our currently ideals and morals on to history, which actually distorts it, but as this is a very unsubtle exaggeration of history, it fits well.

One sequence is particularly powerful. P.T. Barnum has decided to promote and tour Jenny Lind in the States. Jenny Lind was a Swedish Opera Singer and one of the biggest stars in Europe at the time. Barnum has never heard her sing so he pins his hopes on the opening night. Her song “Never Enough” is, as I mentioned earlier, a deliberate reflection on the story. It is aimed at Barnum thinking he has no limit to the success he could make for himself.

Jenny Lind's (Rebecca Ferguson) "Never Enough" tells more through glances and looks, then through words.

However, as the song goes on, there are three different stories building and all just through character expressions and looks. Barnum is overawed at the prospect of Jenny Lynd bringing him even more unbridled success, while his wife can see him in the wings of the stage. She is fearful that (dependant on your interpretation) either he is falling in love with this singer or she can see that this is potentially leading him to lose sight of what he has to lose.

The third story focuses on one of the Circus stars Anne (Zendaya) and her relationship with Barnum’s “junior partner” Phillip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron. This is the social commentary on interracial relationships at the time and after having held her hand, he sees a couple looking at them and whispering. She sees them too and as he lets her hand go and stays focused on Lynd singing, she walks away both in embarrassment of thinking he was genuine and realising that her hopes of a life with him cannot happen without a life of judgement and intolerance, of which she has had enough of.

It is a superbly well thought through and written scene and sets us all up for the second half of the film. It is fun, emotional, and catchy. Definitely one for a family night in, or night out, and if you ever get the chance to watch it on one of those outdoor cinemas, I encourage you to go. It does bring a great atmosphere, lots of singing and many, many funny attempts at costumes. My partner and I went to one, and we sat near the Bearded Lady – he was having a great time! Yes, he!

Directed by: Michael Gracey

Screenplay by: Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon

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

Release Date: December 20, 2017

My Rating: 8/10

I still think Barnum parks his Elephant illegally at the end, though.

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