Mary Poppins Returns: A Parable on the state of British Politics

Woman with chestnut brown hair holding colourful balloons

For someone who has reached political burnout, I seem to be unable to keep away from the subject, but, in a way, my faith-based commitment to the common good means that I can’t leave it behind 100%. I managed to forget about it, and the fact I have a phone, for the 3 hours I’ve been in a cinema on Tuesday afternoon, but when the excitement of seeing a classic come back to life with a moral lesson that life repeats itself wore down, and real life came back hitting me in the face like a polar wind, the need for a magical solution to the problems plaguing us all became strong. If you have not seen the film, I suggest you skip this post until you do and I hope to see you for the next one in the meantime, or have a look around the archives, there’s some good stuff in there if I may say so myself.

The film ends with a song that is new and familiar, and that intimates that there’s nowhere to go but up. Like a kite. Got it yet? The song, to me and a few other people, seems to have not only remade Let’s go fly a kite, but also A Spoonful of Sugar, and that’s probably why it stuck to me as a parable of the state of British Politics in January 2019. As Oscar Wilde said, we’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Only that I would say most of us are looking straight at the gutter, instead of realising that the only way is up.

The last big political phenomenon of 2018 have been the Gilets Jaunes, a model that seems to have been imported by the disaffected of Britain, and I would assume with largely the same mix of conspiracy theories that sound like a secular rendition of the Church in Danger and the age old threat of the Papists. People are angry and want to be listened to, but the anger is misplaced at the only reasonable outcome of trying to negotiate with a party that is trying to maximise their own returns (the EU), and amounts to a constitutional crisis. The real targets of that anger, which in many cases legitimately is the EU, seems to get a pass. It would be best if everyone just took a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, and we just moved forward to negotiate the actual trade deal for the future, but so far Mary Poppins hasn’t turned out to rescue us.

She turned up, though, to rescue a 25 years-older Michael Banks in his time of need. Michael, a widower well portrayed by Ben Whishaw (who seems to be in everything as much as Olivia Colman), is facing the threat of repossession of his home, and falls for the false help of a character which his children recognise in its duplicitousness. Banks is a well-meaning but broken man: he lost his ability to function with his late wife. It’s how everyone who lives with grief is, especially in the first year. Things just became overwhelming and then one wrong thing follows another until the mess can’t be unravelled, if not by the magical intervention that brings to the finale.

As every fable ever written, it is not difficult to ascribe to it meanings beyond the literal ones. So, with all due respect to grieving widows and widowers, we could see Michael Banks as the PM, losing power over her circumstances in the 2017 election, and Mrs Banks as the 2015 majority. The loan taken at the bank is the agreement with the DUP, which will come back to bite our anti-hero. We see the Leave Left encapsulated in Jane, who is a lovely activist for a labour association splitting her time between her core cause, saving her family home, and her blossoming romance with Bertie 2.0 (isn’t Lin-Manuel Miranda SO CUTE despite his horrid affected accent? Didn’t he watch enough EastEnders while preparing for this character?). Jack, as the character’s real name is, is pretty much your stereotypical centrist dad, so it’s no surprise that a) he looks up to the lovely London Sky when he is lost and b) he’s on Mary’s side, ending up in a duet with her to a song that warns us that while “the cover is nice, the cover is not the book.” 

Corbyn makes an appearance as the admiral, he really is on the side of his neighbours but seems mostly concerned with the fact that Big Ben doesn’t strike on time (which really is a hint to how the situation will be resolved). Helen the maid is the part of the cabinet that decided to support May’s Withdrawal Agreement; she also is well-meaning but overwhelmed at the situation after the death of her mistress. The lady with a dog on Cherry Tree Lane is any PM of an EU country that has ever said anything in support of May, offered help when it was too late and just to salvage the situation rather than resolve it. There is one last character on the side of Mary, her cousin Topsy, otherwise known as Donald Trump. It’s not just a matter of foreign accent and ridiculous hair, but the entire situation around the second Wednesdays shows how the party that she was supposed to help is the one that helps her the most and really, that’s true of Trump and May beyond the walking down the stairs hand in hand bit.

Then we get to the villains. Quite obviously Wilkins is a sum of all of the EU decision makers who tried to appear like they were being reasonable and on May’s side while simultaneously undermining her. I’m in two minds about who exactly is Hamilton Gooding: it could be both the arch-remainers actively undermining the PM’s deal because it’s not remain, and the arch-brexiteers who are also actively undermining the PM’s deal because they wanted WTO all along. I believe it fits both options: the first one because he is diligently following orders, and so that makes him the minion of the EU the way they are; the second option is because few people are Adolf Eichmann, and he probably has an agenda to push in following the orders to the letter. His companion, Frye, instead, shows compassion towards the Banks and tries to buy them more time to find the proof of the shares and keep the house, even when the plan is clearly to repossess as many houses as possible. He’s everyone in this scenario, both in Parliament and the EU, that has ever tried to stop the clear intent to make an example of Britain to stop other countries from leaving the EU, and has been trying to find some form of compromise among all parties involved. The children are the members of the public, victims of the circumstances, with Georgie in particular being me and all others who have ever argued that the EU were the wolves.

As March looms and everyone keeps asking me what my situation is going to be like in 2 months’ time, we are, like the Banks’, scraping to find proof of the shares and get to the bank by the last stroke of midnight. Will our Centrist Dad Jack (it could be any MPs, but I think Paul Masterton has auditioned for the job) manage to rally his fellow lamplighters (MPs) and save the situation at the eleventh hour (or more accurately the 5 minutes before midnight, or the final vote in Parliament), or will he need the miracle works of Mary Poppins coming in to salvage the situation once again? In the words of Alessandro Manzoni, ai posteri l’ardua sentenza.

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  1. Darn! I was so excited to pop in for a visit and click on this title…but I also want to see Mary Poppins before reading it. So I guess I’ll be back, friend! 😉

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