Movie: The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman shows why Hugh Jackman is regarded as one of this generation’s best entertainers.

Hugh Jackman stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s The Greatest Showman.

The movie showcases Jackman’s on-screen charisma, energy and great singing and dancing skills.

Given the musical’s story-line such a performance is essential. After all, he is portraying Phineas Taylor Barnum – a man renowned for his great showmanship. At the same time Jackman’s Barnum is much nicer and far more ethical than the real Barnum!

Keale Settle (centre) and the cast of The Greatest Showman.

The movie briefly explores Barnum’s early years starting when he was a young lad accompanying his father Philo, an impoverished tailor, to the home of a wealthy client. It’s here he falls in love with the beautiful Charity. Philo’s death sees Barnum being forced to survive on the streets by stealing while Charity spends her teenage years in a boarding school. The two manage to stay in contact and eventually marry and have two children. They live in a rundown apartment and have little money until Barnum illegally obtains a bank loan to launch a showcase for “unique persons” and “curiosities”.

He then sets about convincing marginalised members of society to flaunt their “gifts” and not be ashamed. The resulting show includes such stars as The Bearded Lady (Keala Settle), General Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey) and African-American trapeze artists Anne (Zendaya) and W.D. Wheeler (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Zendaya (centre) and the cast of The Greatest Showman.

Barnum eventually turns his venture into a huge moneymaking machine. Yet his lowly upbringing still makes him yearn for acceptance from New York society.  As a result he hires the wealthy and well-connected playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) as his right hand man. Phillip organises an audience with Queen Victoria and while at Buckingham Palace Barnum meets Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). He persuades her to come to America believing such a tour will ensure his acceptance into society.  However this decision eventually proves disastrous. At the same time Phillip has fallen in love with Anne, much to his parents’ chagrin.

Zendaya and Zac Efron’s trapeze scene in The Greatest Showman.

While the story-line of The Greatest Showman is far more fiction than fact, the movie has just as much action as any Barnum show. Catchy songs, brilliant choreography and colourful costumes and sets abound.

The show’s opening number featuring Jackman and his circus performers, a bar scene with Jackman and Efron, Efron and Zendaya’s love ballad on the trapeze and Settle’s presentation of This is Me are standouts. Michelle Williams (who plays Charity) shines in her ballad about the complications of long-term partnership.

Zac Efron and Jackman in the bar scene.

Zac Efron and Jackman in the bar scene.

It comes as no surprise to discover the music was written by La La Land writers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. It’s also no surprise to see that first time director Michael Gracey’s credits include numerous music videos.

It’s the music, the extravagant staging and the performance of the cast, especially Jackman, which ensures The Greatest Showman is well worth considering if you’re looking for a couple of hours of escapist entertainment.

The Greatest Showman is showing in cinemas from Boxing Day.

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