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The Greatest Showman Movie Plot
In the early 19th century, young P. T. Barnum and his tailor father Philo work for the Hallett family. Barnum falls for the Halletts’ daughter, Charity. When Charity attends finishing school, she and Barnum write to each other until reuniting as adults. They eventually marry and raise two daughters, Caroline and Helen, in New York City. They live a humble life, and though Charity is happy, Barnum craves more.
Barnum loses his shipping clerk job when the company goes bankrupt, due to a typhoon that sank all the firm’s cargo vessels. He later secures a bank loan, deceptively using his former employer’s lost ships as “collateral”. He opens Barnum’s American Museum in downtown Manhattan which features various wax figures. Ticket sales are slow, so Caroline and Helen suggest showcasing something “alive”. Barnum adds “freak” performers, such as bearded lady Lettie Lutz and dwarf man Charles Stratton. This garners higher attendance, but also protests and poor reviews from well-known critic James Gordon Bennett.
Barnum renames his venture “Barnum’s Circus” and recruits playwright Phillip Carlyle to help generate publicity. Phillip is mesmerized by the African American trapeze artist, Anne Wheeler, but he hides his feelings. Phillip arranges for Barnum and his troupe to meet Queen Victoria. Barnum persuades famed Swedish singer Jenny Lind to tour America, with him as her manager. Lind’s American debut is a success. During her song, Phillip’s parents see him and Anne holding hands. As Barnum gains favor with aristocratic patrons, he distances himself from his troupe, advising them to work without him. Dejected, they decide to stand against their local harassers.
When Phillip and Anne attend the theater together, they run into Phillip’s parents. They chastise him for “parading around with the help”. Phillip tries to convince Anne that they can be together, but she disagrees saying they will never be accepted socially. As Barnum takes Lind on a US tour, Charity, who stays home with the girls, feels isolated from her husband. While on tour, Lind becomes romantically attracted to Barnum. When he rejects her advances, she threatens to quit and later retaliates with a surprise kiss at the end of her last show, which is photographed by the press.
Barnum returns home to find his circus on fire, caused by a fight between protesters and the troupe. Phillip runs into the burning building to save Anne, not knowing that she has already escaped. He suffers serious injuries before Barnum rescues him. Bennett tells Barnum that the culprits have been caught and that Lind has cancelled her tour after Barnum’s “scandal”. Barnum’s mansion is foreclosed, and Charity (having found out about the kiss) berates Barnum for being in love with only himself and his show. She takes their daughters to her parents’ home.
Devastated, Barnum retreats to a local bar. His troupe finds him there and say that despite their disappointments, they still consider themselves a family. Inspired, he resolves to build a new show and not let ambition rule him. Phillip awakens in a hospital with Anne by his side, while Barnum and Charity reconcile.
A recovering Phillip offers his share of the profits to help Barnum rebuild the circus in exchange for becoming a full partner, which Barnum readily accepts. To economize, Barnum transforms the enterprise into an open-air tent circus.
The revamped circus is a huge success. Barnum has Phillip take his place as the ringmaster so Barnum can spend more time with his family. Barnum leaves the circus early and arrives on an elephant to attend Caroline and Helen’s ballet recital.