A family musical loosely based on the life of showman PT Barnum, The Greatest Showman is a glossy, old-fashioned movie filled with fun songs and performances from a cast led by Hugh Jackman as Barnum, Michelle Williams as his wife Charity and Zac Efron as (fictional) businessman Phillip Carlyle.
Beginning with a young impoverished Barnum falling in love with wealthy Charity, the story follows PT as he attempts to support his family in mundane jobs before having the idea that would become the Barnum And Bailey Circus – an exhibition of human oddities such as the world’s fattest man, General Tom Thumb, the bearded lady and acrobatic performers such as trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). Excluded by society, this group of people is united by Barnum but then cruelly ignored by him when he’s dazzled by the talents of opera singer Jenny Lind (Ferguson).
If you can put the fact that this is a very sanitized version of Barnum’s life to one side (he exploited his performers and conned audiences with hoaxes, for starters) and just enjoy it as a good old song and dance, this is very enjoyable family fare that boasts little plot but lots of glittering showpieces. The songs are likeable – especially ‘This Is Me’ and ‘Rewrite The Stars’ – and there are some impressive set pieces, even if they rely heavily on CGI.
Best of all, however, are the performances. Michelle Williams and Rebecca Ferguson are strong as the two women in Barnum’s life, while Zendaya is tough yet vulnerable as Anne, and blessed with a beautiful singing voice that is only matched by theatre star Keala Settle as the heartbreaking bearded lady Lettie Lutz.
Of course, the two male leads don’t disappoint either. Zac Efron is at his best as Barnum’s financier turned friend – his scenes with Zendaya are lovely and his singing is a joy. Hugh Jackman, meanwhile, is exuberant, singing and dancing across the screen with such skill that you wish he did it in every movie. His impressive turn in The Greatest Showman shows that a law needs to be passed that Hugh Jackman has to make at least one musical movie every year, just to make the world a little bit more joyful.
Is The Greatest Showman suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
There are no frightening moments in the movie, although very young children (under 5s) may take a few minutes to get used to characters such as the Bearded Lady.
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