Finding Neverland

Marc Forster's delicately whimsical, genuinely moving film, based on Allan Knee's play, The Man Who Was Peter Pan, seeks to answer a superficially straightforward question: What sort of man conceived the peculiarly captivating world of Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, eccentric Captain Hook and the Darling family, whose boisterous children have a dog for a nanny?...read more

Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
Rating:

Marc Forster's delicately whimsical, genuinely moving film, based on Allan Knee's play, The Man Who Was Peter Pan, seeks to answer a superficially straightforward question: What sort of man conceived the peculiarly captivating world of Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, eccentric Captain Hook and the Darling family, whose boisterous children have a dog for a nanny? The answer is infinitely complicated, and Knee took considerable liberties with the facts of playwright J.M. Barrie's life, but Johnny Depp's performance is heartbreakingly poignant without degenerating into sloppy sentiment. London, 1903: Wealthy, famous and less-than-happily married to a beautiful former actress (Radha Mitchell), insecure playwright Barrie is fresh off a West End flop and in search of new ideas. While walking his enormous dog in Kensington Gardens, he meets the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four young sons, George (Nick Roud), Jack (Joe Prospero), Peter (Freddie Highmore) and Michael (Luke Spill). Barrie is irresistibly enchanted by this quick-witted, exuberant gaggle of boys whose mother, in defiance of all conventional Edwardian child-rearing wisdom, has steadfastly refused to stifle their imaginations or curb their natural high spirits. He devotes every free moment to playing elaborate games of make-believe with the brothers — paying special attention to Peter, who took his father's death particularly hard — and offering the delicate Sylvia, whose ill-health is a source of unspoken worry to her children, a sympathetic ear, the services of his household staff and even the use of a summer cottage. The situation appalls Sylvia's starchy mother (Julie Christie), further alienates Barrie's wife and sets proper tongues a-wagging — his relationship with the lovely widow or his interest in her budding boys must surely be improper, unsavory or both. But the youngsters reawaken Barrie's imagination and Peter Pan's magical Neverland slowly emerges, complete with mermaids, pirates, fairy magic, a vengeful crocodile with a clock ticking within its belly and at the heart of it all, a small boy who refuses to grow up. Though best known for the raw emotional fireworks of MONSTER'S BALL (2001), Forster approaches this story of elaborately repressed desires with admirable restraint, resisting the temptation to reduce Barrie to a tangle of pop pathologies. But the film rests on Depp's evocation of Barrie's gentle, playfulness and deeply buried sorrows; it's difficult to imagine another actor so gracefully evoking Barrie's childlike qualities without seeming creepy or emotionally malformed, and only the hard of heart will come away dry-eyed.

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