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Friday November 15th 2019

Saving Mr Banks | 2013

Saving Mr Banks film location: Shawfield Street, Chelsea, London SW3
Saving Mr Banks location: PL Travers' house in Chelsea': Shawfield Street, Chelsea, London SW3

Since this is a Disney film, it’s inevitable that the epic tussle between movie mogul Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and intransigent author PL Travers (Emma Thompson) over the rights to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the screen comes with an industrial-size spoonful of sugar.

The film draws on parallels between Travers’ childhood in Australia and the genesis of her stories about the magical nanny.

It’s almost all filmed around Los Angeles except for the brief glimpse of Travers’ London home.

Saving Mr Banks film location: Smith Street, Chelsea, London SW3
Saving Mr Banks location: PL Travers' former house in Chelsea': Smith Street, Chelsea, London SW3

Travers lived at 50 Smith Street, Chelsea, SW3, just off what is now the trendy, upmarket King’s Road. The house is graced with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

Although this is the house which inspired ’17 Cherry Tree Lane’, Travers moved out of it in 1962, to live a couple of streets west at 29 Shawfield Street. Those blossoming cherry trees were added for the film, of course. This is the house seen on screen, though its interior was recreated in the Santa Clarita Studios, north of Los Angeles.

The flashback sequences to Travers’ childhood in Australia – when she was still Helen Goff – were all filmed in Southern California.

The idyllic park in ‘Maryborough, Queensland’ where Helen plays with her adored father Travers Goff (Colin Farrel) stands in the shadow of some towering palm trees.

Although Australia is home to some indigenous palms, these look suspiciously Californian and the image of those preposterously tall yet spindly trees springing up from a thick tangle of vegetation feels naggingly familiar.

In fact, this is the frequently used Los Angeles State and County Arboretum, 301 North Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia, east of Pasadena, a 127-acre botanical garden which must be one of the most filmed locations in the world.

Its tropical foliage has been seen in Tarzan movies, Road to... movies, classics such as George Cukor’s The Women and William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, a couple of Alfred Hitchcock movies (Notorious and Under Capricorn), and literally hundreds of others, including Anaconda , 2011’s Bridesmaids and Meet The Fockers, which uses the garden's kitschy little cottage Queen Anne Cottage.

This feature has become immediately recognisable, not least from the opening sequence of TV’s Fantasy Island, so it seems a bit odd that its prominent roof wasn’t digitally erased from the background.

Saving Mr Banks film location: Hale House, Heritage Square Museum, Los Angeles
Saving Mr Banks location: the Goffs' house in 'Maryborough': Hale House, Heritage Square Museum, Los Angeles | Photograph: Shutterstock / Allard One

The elegant Victorian ‘Maryborough’ house, from which the family is obliged to move, is more Queen Anne-style in LA. It’s the Hale House, part of the Heritage Square Museum, 3800 Homer Street, in Montecito Heights, northeast of Downtown LA.

This outdoor Museum was established in 1969 as a permanent home for several 19th-century houses that would have otherwise been demolished. Eight structures were transported from various locations around Los Angeles to be restored on this 10-acre site. The Hale House, dating from 1887, originally stood across the Los Angeles River at 4502 North Figueroa Street in Mount Washington, northeast of Elysian Park.

The town square of ‘Maryborough’ itself is simply the adaptable Universal StudiosCourthouse Square. Did you recognise the 'Royal Hotel' on the Square's southeast corner as the 'Holomax' cinema, where Jaws 19 is showing in Back To The Future II?

It’s straight back to the LA Arboretum to find the railway station where the family boards a train for ‘Alorra – the end of the line'. This is the Santa Anita Depot, which was constructed in 1890 for the famous Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad about a quarter of a mile north of its current location.

In 1970, like the Heritage Square houses, it was saved from demolition by being relocated and carefully restored. The station is open for tours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday.

In reality, the journey from Maryborough to Alorra is almost 250 miles but, for the film, there’s not a great deal of travelling involved.

The ‘Alorra’ homestead was built about 30 miles northwest of Downtown LA, on the Big Sky Movie Ranch, 4927 Bennett Road, in Simi Valley.

Big Sky has been a filming location since at least the 1950s, when it was used for TV series Gunsmoke. Since then, it’s been a television regular, seen in the likes of Rawhide, Little House on the Prairie, The Thorn Birds, Bonanza, Dallas and Quantum Leap.

More recently it’s featured on the big screen in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, the Coen brothers’ Hail Caesar and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Oscar-winning The Revenant. The ranch is not open to visitors.

It’s back to Universal Studios for the town of ‘Alorra’, where ‘Belhatchett Bank’, where Mr Goff works, stands on the backlot’s Western Street.

Leaving 'Australia', it’s fast-forward to 1961, with Travers arriving in Los Angeles.

Ontario International Airport stands in for the much-modernised Los Angeles International Airport. Not in Canada, of course, this is the Californian city35 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles. It turns out the city actually is named after the Canadian province which is where city founders, George and William Chaffey, were born.

Modest Ontario Airport is a screen regular, in productions such as Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can (as ‘Miami International’), David Fincher's Gone Girl and Zodiac, and also in Blow, Argo and American Wedding.

For Saving Mr Banks, LAX’s signature Theme Building, the Jetsons-style concrete spider which used to house a restaurant, was added to the background digitally.

Saving Mr Banks film location: Beverly Hills Hotel, Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills
Saving Mr Banks location: PL Travers is driven to her luxurious accommodation: Beverly Hills Hotel, Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills

Unimpressed with the city, which to Travers smells of “chlorine and sweat”, happily talkative driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti) takes her to the Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills.

Apart from privacy issues for its A-lists guests, the Beverly Hills Hotel has suffered problems in the past with filming on the premises. Heat from the lights during a film shoot once set off the hotel's sprinkler system. Nowadays, apart from establishing shots of the entrance, it’s generally off-limits to film crews.

In this case, interiors were filmed in the Langham Huntington Hotel, 1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue in Pasadena. The hotel bar, where Travers orders a civilised pot of tea, is the Langham’s Tap Room.

The Langham was previously featured in 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War, also starring Tom Hanks, and in Disney’s 1988 remake of The Parent Trap.

You won’t be surprised that, for a Disney film, the Disney Studios are the real thing, at 500 South Buena Vista Street in Burbank. Thankfully, much of the property remains unchanged. It was on soundstages here that the whole of Mary Poppins was filmed.

And likewise, that is the real original Disneyland, 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, though of course only the portions that retain its traditional old appearance – the old Railway Station at the Entrance, Main Street, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and Fantasyland.

Saving Mr Banks film location: Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood.
Saving Mr Banks location: PL Travers attends the premiere of Mary Poppins: Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood

There’s one more real LA institution used, as Mary Poppins eventually premieres at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, 6925 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, decked out with yet more of those cherry trees.

It’s true that Travers was not invited to the big night, but she was not a person to be snubbed. It’s also true that she cried during the screening of Mary Poppins – just not for the reasons implied in the film.