The Greatest Showman is a musical drama directed by Michael Gracey in his directorial debut and written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon. The film is inspired by the story of P. T. Barnum’s creation of the Barnum & Bailey Circus and the lives of its star attractions. The greatest showman is an important addition to the film industry as well as to audiences of all walks of life, as it depicts the life and horrors of the first and most popular circus in the world, at that time, which is now gone forever.
P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his troupe perform a show at the circus (“The Greatest Show”). As the song continues, the background turns to black, with Barnum singing alone, leading to a flashback to Barnum’s childhood where he and his father Philo (Will Swenson), a tailor, work for the Hallett family, and he becomes infatuated with their daughter, Charity Hallett Barnum (Michelle Williams). Though Charity is being sent to finishing school, Barnum reassures her they will not be separated. The two keep in touch through letters until they meet again in adulthood (“A Million Dreams”), eventually marrying and raising two daughters, Caroline (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Cameron Seely), in New York City (“A Million Dreams” reprise). They live a humble life; though Charity is happy, Barnum dreams of more.
Barnum loses his job as a clerk at a shipping company after the company goes bankrupt. Taking a risky bet, he takes out a large loan from a bank, deceiving the bank into accepting his former employer’s lost ships as collateral. He uses this loan to buy Barnum’s American Museum in downtown Manhattan, an attraction showcasing various wax models. Initially, sales are slow; on the suggestion of his children to showcase something “alive”, Barnum searches for “freaks” to serve as performers for his museum (“Come Alive”). This attracts a large audience despite protests and poor reviews, prompting Barnum to rename his venture “Barnum’s Circus”.
Searching for ways to further his reputation amongst the upper class, Barnum meets playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) and convinces him to join his venture (“The Other Side”). Carlyle is enchanted with Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), an African-American trapeze artist, but he hides his feelings. During a trip Carlyle arranged for Barnum and his troupe to meet Queen Victoria (Gayle Rankin), Barnum meets Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), a famed Swedish singer, whom he convinces to perform in America, with him serving as her manager. Lind’s first American performance is a rousing success (“Never Enough”). While Barnum gains favor with the aristocratic patrons, he begins to distance himself from his original troupe, refusing to socialize with them. Dejected, they decide to stand against their local harassers (“This Is Me”).
Carlyle and Anne Wheeler attend the theater together one night, only to run into Carlyle’s parents, Mr. Carlyle (Byron Jennings) and Mrs. Carlyle (Betsy Aidem), who insult Wheeler’s lowly status, causing her to leave. Carlyle chases her and tries to convince her that they can be together, but she rejects him despite her feelings towards him (“Rewrite the Stars”). As Barnum takes Lind on a US tour, Charity feels isolated from her husband as she stays home with their daughters (“Tightrope”). While on tour, Lind begins falling in love with Barnum, but when he refuses her advances, she calls off the tour and kisses him at the end of her last show, which is photographed by the press (“Never Enough” reprise). Barnum returns home to find his circus on fire, caused by a fight between the protesters and the troupe. Carlyle, who had tried to save Anne not knowing she had already escaped, is rescued amid the chaos by Barnum but suffers severe burns. Most of the sets and props are destroyed. Word of Lind’s cancellation and Barnum’s public intimacy also reaches New York, resulting in his mansion being foreclosed upon and Charity taking Caroline and Helen back to her parents’ home.
Depressed, Barnum retreats to a local pub, where his troupe find him there and persuade him to rebuild the circus. Barnum has an epiphany that causes him to realize the circus was for his friends and family rather than for himself (“From Now On”). Meanwhile, the injured Carlyle wakes in a hospital with Wheeler by his side as they share a kiss.
The story get better and better when Barnum moves forward with a plan to save all — along with his friends and family, they work on creating The Greatest Show. I found the remainder of this film touching and inspiring. The music was fantastic, the acting brilliant and the story worth every second of my time watching. Hugh Jackman is a true inspiration and a very talented performer. The Greatest Showman did not get it’s fair due, as I felt it should have been nominated for best picture, best actor and best director as well as best song. I love this movie and highly recommend it to all.
[The Best Showman is Oscar nominated for Best Original Song, “This Is Me”.]