The Greatest Showman Review and Historical Analysis

The Greatest Showman is an amazing picture, but the history behind the show is as intricate and intriguing as the movie itself.


Ad for P.T. Barnum’s circus (provided through Wikipedia)

Isabelle Spetalieri, Staff Writer

The movie, “The Greatest Showman” is a masterpiece of design, music, and picture. It tells the story of P.T. Barnum, the creator of The Greatest Show on Earth circus. P.T. Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, grows up in a difficult family, striving for his misplaced dreams.

When Barnum falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy and known socialite, his prospects change dramatically. She is sent away to a reform school, and their communication is limited to only written letters.

Ad for P.T. Barnum’s circus (provided by Wikipedia)

Once Barnum’s love returns, they begin a life

Ad for Jenny Lind performing at the show (provided by Wikipedia)

together, against her father’s wishes. Though his wife is used to a comfortable lifestyle of class and beauty, she is content in her life with Barnum, swept away and enthralled by his constant affection for her, in all ways.

Barnum, alas, is discontented. He longs for a different lifestyle, for class and beauty. Part of Barnum wants to prove his worth to his step-father, who has never approved of him.

In the movie, Barnum uses some documents from a company that lays him off as collateral for a museum. The museum, though intricate, isn’t lively enough to attract an adequate audience. (Factually, P.T. Barnum created two museums, both of which completely burned down).

Pulling from memories of his youth, Barnum starts a freak-show and employs a plethora of unique people to star in his new show. At first, people are adverse to the idea, and many protesters arise, along with negative reviews in the papers. Eventually, the people fall in love with the glitter and music, the animals, and the experience of being at a show.

As P.T. Barnum’s “circus” gains popularity, he employs the help of a local and severely unpopular playwright, Phillip Carlyle, who eventually joins the circus and falls in love with a trapeze artist. (In reality, Bailey’s circus combines with P.T. Barnum’s as his circus was more popular, and Carlyle is a cinematic substitute for Bailey.)

Barnum goes through many struggles in the movie with his circus, his wife and family, and his prospects for the future. His dream is the only constant thing, and when his circus burns down as a result of violent protesters, he chooses to house his circus under a tent, which is now a modern symbol for the circus life.

Historically, Barnum and Bailey’s circus combined with the Ringley Brothers World’s Greatest Show. The circus’ shifted hands once Bailey died in 1906

and were ran separately until they combined in 1919. Due to low attendance rates from PETA regulations and accusations of animal cruelty, and the high operation costs, The Greatest Show on Earth permanently closed May 21 of 2017, after over 146 years.