True to the real story? Well, I’m not so sure of that, but would it be quite as wonderful if it were too close? I’ll let you decide.
From what I know of Phineas Taylor Barnum, he wasn’t as beautiful as Mr Jackman and his life wasn’t quite as neatly packaged as the movie makes out, but then again, stories don’t translate directly to screen – not in a good way, anyway.
The movie did encapsulate the better known events of his life – his rise from poverty to wealth, his marriage to Charity and birth of two children (rather than four), the success of his ‘freaks’ to bring his museum to life, his meeting with Jenny Lind and the tour that saw him shunning the people who made him, an abbreviated version of his partnership with Philip Carlysle, the fire that destroyed his museum and the circus tent that rose from the ashes. As to how accurate and linked these events really were is up for debate.
Barnum certainly had more than just Carlysle as a business partner. He also had a very successful museum before he added the ‘freaks’, though the movie says otherwise, plus his museum suffered two large fires, not one.
Despite this, the movie does depict very well the determination of one man to make his dreams come true and the heady heights and rock bottom lows that he suffered. Despite bankruptcy, ruin and everything else life threw at him, he always rose again. To me, this is true proof of a successful man.
The sadness comes in his ‘freak’ show. Was it exploitation, was it giving these misfits in society a place where they could stand tall and shine, or was it a bit of both? I feel it was the latter, because he certainly didn’t do it out of the goodness of his heart, yet he did give these people, who were shunned and ostracised by society, a sense of belonging and a family. Rightly or wrongly, he gave them a wealth and fame they would never have found without him.
It saddened me because it highlights very clearly the lack of tolerance human beings have for those who are different. It still goes on today, albeit to a lesser extent, and I feel this is only because many of the ‘freaks’ in Barnum’s show had genetic, hormonal or medical conditions that are known, understood and managed today, but they weren’t back then.
As many of you know, my debut children’s novel, The Misfits, deals with children who are different and don’t fit in to what is deemed the ‘norm’. My message is to embrace your uniqueness and let it shine, for it is the people who are different and unique who have innovated and changed our lives. It’s about time Joe Public remembered this and thought twice before shunning someone a little different from themself…..