The Greatest Showman (2017): ‘The Show Must Go On and Ignore it’s Characters’ – A Film Review



The Greatest Showman is inspired by the events of the circus shows put on by P. T. Barnum, leading to the creation of his own circus group: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Self-proclaimed as the greatest showman and pushing that his show was the greatest show in the world. Whilst the success of La La Land in 2016 was bound to bring in a new age of musicals. With a look to the visual performances of circus performers and the bright colours of musicals and the choreography often associated with the sheer spectacle, which is the musical film; perhaps circus and the musical is a welcome marriage of subject matter…


Style Over Substance

Unfortunately, as has been the criticism of many musicals, singing and dancing and watching the vibrant colours highlighted by complex cinematography will only go so far to cover up a lack of story. Many musicals will force songs into their films and often forget their characters. This is all very true of The Greatest Showman, which dances and sings but doesn’t act its characters. In fact, plot threads are set up and completely dropped in a service for forcing the highs and lows of a plot. Certain conflicts of character are completely forgotten whilst romance elements are rushed for extra character but won’t lead anywhere. SPOILERS: Conisder how quickly Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) get together and how quickly P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman)’s shunning of his performers is forgotten. END OF SPOILERS.


The Show

Despite the oversimplification of a cluttered plot of characters, the film does dance its cameras and coloured performers around in extravagant ways that feels in line with musicals. The numbers used, though forced at times, do bring something to the entertainment value of the film – also bringing the film some noteworthy attention. This feels well suited to any fan of musicals and it will likely sweep many up who also like the works of Baz Lurhmann (Moulin Rouge!: which is actually a similar but better alternative) or modern musicals like The Phantom of the Opera or Les Misérables (though The Greatest Showman still doesn’t reach their mark). The Greatest Showman is entertaining and gets caught up in the whimsical aspects of the spectacle in a ‘the show must go on!’ type of manner, but it doesn’t manage much more than that.



Despite its visual strengths and the sheer commitment given to its musical numbers, The Greatest Showman just falls short of being a great musical. Whilst looking for the story and characters in the film by those that aren’t especially taken by musicals, will lead many to be highly frustrated by both plot holes and the almost careless look at some of the characters. Furthermore these characters are based upon real people and therefore there should have been a lot more depth there as there is a lot of source material, but here it is all forgotten for a song and a dance. Ironically, P. T. Barnum was known for fabricating his shows, similarly The Greatest Showman fabricates its reputation as a Great show or even a Great musical movie.



P. T. Barnum is determined to put on some of the best performances he can and will stop at nothing to do so; even including many performers who may be considered taboo into his circus. All the while his wife comes from a privileged background he is determined to one up.




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A Note on My Reviews

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis below the review for any who wish to see one.


Films Mentioned

La La Land (d.  Damien Chazelle USA/Hong Kong 2016)

Les Misérables (d. Tom Hooper UK/USA 2012)

Moulin Rouge! (d. Baz Lurhmann USA/Australia 2001) 

The Greatest Showman (d. Michael Gracey USA 2017)

The Phantom of the Opera (d. Joel Schumacher UK/USA 2004)



Further Reading

Official Site

Interview with Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron

Interview with the Directors

Interview with Cast

Behind the Scenes

Fact vs Fiction

Spectacle and the Musical

From Now On with Hugh Jackman


If you liked this…

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – A Film Review

Logan (2017) – A Film Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Film Them (2016) – A Film Review


This was an analytical review of….


The Greatest Showman (d. Michael Gracey USA 2017)


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