26 December 2017 (released)
31 December 2017
Okay, so first-time director Michael Gracey may have used a bit of artistic license to make P. T. Barnum way more likeable than he perhaps was, but Hollywood never lets a little thing like the truth get in the way of a good film. And boy is this a good film.
Hugh Jackman leads an all-star cast in the movie inspired by - and not 100 per cent factually based upon - showman and innovator Barnum.
The story opens with a young and extremely poor Phineas Taylor Barnum forging a friendship with the daughter of a wealthy local man, Charity Hallett. When his father dies, Barnum is forced to fend for himself on the grimy streets of 19th century America, but despite having no fixed address, he still manages to write to Charity, who by this time is at a fancy finishing school.
As adults the pair fall in love, and although Charity's father near enough disowns her, she (now played by Michelle Williams) and Barnum set up home together and welcome two little girls into the world.
While Barnum is never portrayed as an outright crook, more a cheeky hustler, the soon-to-be showman manages to purchase a museum of curiosities by defrauding the bank out of a loan. Sales don't pick up in the way he had hoped, but after a light bulb moment thanks to his daughter's Tom Thumb book, Barnum hits on an idea that's about to change his fortunes. Rather than just displaying stuffed animals, the fraudster adds human curiosities to his line-up, including a bearded lady, trapeze artist siblings and his very own Tom Thumb.
From here Barnum goes on to single-handedly create the circus, as well as making opera a big deal in the U.S. when he funds a tour for soprano Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), one of Barnum's few ventures that didn't involve any trickery.
Despite audiences being slightly hoodwinked by this glitzy Hollywood retelling, The Greatest Showman is a rip-roaring, rousing affair. Jackman's flawless Barnum inspires the best in his unusual acts, and his version of the rather more portly real-life trailblazer gives them the self-belief that they can do anything and be anyone, despite the bad hand mother nature dealt them.
Zac Efron plays devilishly handsome socialite Phillip Carlyle, who shuns his wealthy background to go into business with Barnum. It's easy to forget that Efron was once an all-singing, all-dancing child actor, but his turn in The Greatest Showman is a spectacular return to form. Zendaya plays his love interest, trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, and not only looks dazzling, but thoroughly impresses with her singing, acting and circus skills, most of which she did herself.
Aside from Jackman's captivating performance, the real stars of the show are the original songs and choreography. Gracey and writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon cleverly fuse a modern sound and look against a 19th century backdrop. Foot tapping and head nodding are unavoidable as a steady drum beats accompanies most of the instantly infectious numbers.
It's very Moulin Rouge!-esque, with the costume designers doing a wonderful job of giving the circus a Vogue-style makeover.
The Greatest Showman may have taken creative liberties, but then isn't that what Barnum was famous for? A must see for musical fans, who should ensure they do not miss this outrageously good feature.